Town Runs

La Mama: Part II: The Day All Hell Broke Loose

After twice snoozing my alarm I finally pulled myself from sleep a few hours post my Mom’s departure.

Her leaving had me feeling a little lonely but the hustle of the day before me (and a pooch at my feet) gave me the gusto to get going.

I jumped into the shower (ahhhhhh, showers) and as I did, I noticed my throat was a little raw. Hotels will do that to me occasionally, all the recycled air puts my throat in a tizzy and so I wrote it off. Despite a sinking sickness suspicion, there was too much to do to cry over a little tickle.

And what was there to do?

Well, since our arrival the night before had been about 3 hours later than planned (surprised? No, me neither) the list I had hoped to split into two days would have to be jam-packed into one (plus, driving home).

It read like so:

 

Drop the truck at the mechanic

Do laundry

Go to BB&B for soda stream CO2 replacements (one for us and two for other families. The bubbles of The Valley were on our shoulders)

Recycling

Take Cinda to the vet

Speed through Costco

Quick trip to Home Depot

A drop-by fly-in at Natural Pantry (a local health food store)

Drop-off my girlfriend’s truck

Leave Anchorage

Drive for 45 minutes

Shop at Fred Meyer

Get fuel at Fred Meyer

Drive the remaining 7 hours home.

Done!

 

Easy peasy. All in a day’s work, right?

And so it started.

By 7:45am Lou and I were fed (or at least she was) and headed for the mechanic. The truck’s transmission issue was becoming less of a suggested “Look at Me” and more like an “I’ll Leave You Stranded if You Don’t Take a Look at Me”. I had to bring Lou with me because the hotel wouldn’t allow her to stay in the room alone and so started our day of Anchorage Taxi try-outs.

We dropped off the truck for their earliest appointment with the (discussed) idea being that they would assess the situation and have me back on the road in an hour or so to do our chores. Lou and I bid a short farewell to the Blue Beast and called a taxi.

Taxi #1.

He took us back to the hotel where I knew I should do anything other than this but I couldn’t help myself.

I had to take a bath.

It was the most glorious jacuzzi tub I’d ever seen. There wasn’t a chance in the world that I was going to pass up that kind of opportunity.

 

 

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30 minutes later, I was out and prune-y and ready for…

a nap.

The sore throat I’d awoken to wasn’t quite quelled by the soothing warm vapors of the bath. Instead, it was feeling worse.

I was feeling worse.

I felt exhausted and so I allotted myself a 15 minute nap. I was sure I’d feel better after.

Right?

Post-nap it was time to plan. My girlfriend called me from her hotel around the corner and we agreed to pack up and leave together to take Cinda to the vet. Since it was already 10am and the mechanic hadn’t called, we figured we’d use her truck for transport until our truck was ready or until her appointment to have her truck fixed at noon.

Two trucks, two shops, two girls with lots of baggage and a dog needing to do copious amounts of chores and get home the same day.

What could go wrong?

It all started with the recycling.

On the way to the vet, we decided to quickly stop by the mechanic to get all of the recycling out of our truck (and to give them a gentle nudge to help the process along). In the process of prepping for Anchorage at home, I’d forgotten to pack extra clothes (and a toothbrush or toothpaste and jammies and countless other things. It seems I always think of Anchorage as right next door, instead of the 16 hour round trip that it is, complete with an overnight) and so donning my dirty clothes from the day before, I worried little about soiling them further from transporting from my truck to hers the now dripping from rain recycling. We headed to the recycling center and there we found the omen of our day.

30 minutes after we had arrived, as I emptied the final bag of our combined recycling effort I noticed unbroken glass. Beautiful glass. It was a vase, completely intact, without flaw that someone had just put to rest. I pulled it from the pile and showed it to my girlfriend.

“Look what I found!”

“What? Really?! Heck yes!”

 

 

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Like finding a gem (among gems) in the forest…

 

 

Riding high off the vase find (a vase is a luxury and a delicate find that I don’t often allow on trips home) we were certain the day was off to a good start. We headed to the Vet where she dropped us off and then left to fill the Town bubbles. We were multi-tasking our way to success!

In perfect synchronicity, she returned just as we were finishing up paying. And, to make things better we were leaving with good news: Miss Lou was down to 77lbs. and in good health. That’s over 20lbs. lighter than when I met her three Summers ago. I was stoked.

With no call from our mechanic still and the 12 noon appointment right around the corner, we decided it was best to just drop her truck at the shop and head for laundry.

Taxi #2.

When we arrived we started to get our things in order and as my girlfriend started to move things in the backseat, I heard it.

Crash. Boom. Shatter.

The brand new (to us) vase tumbled out of the truck and splintered into all of its pieces onto the pavement below.

And that was our omen, our indicator of the Day When All Hell Broke Lose’s beginning.

But we didn’t see it that way.

We laughed ourselves silly. The vase had survived the rough and tumble of Recycle Land only to shatter after an hour in our care.

Once we composed ourselves, we loaded all of our laundry, ourselves and Cinda into the taxi and headed for the laundromat, which just so happened to be next door to amazing Thai food. Perfect! We waltzed in to the greeting of the owner who cooed over Lou and led us to the back where we could tie her up. However, her leash was just short enough that it created a standing only situation. This would not do. With a couple of hand gestures and shoulder shrugs we negotiated with the owner to bring her in/walked her in and hoped to not get kicked out.

It was laundry time.

8 machines full and $60 in quarters and we were off! I went to order us Thai food while my girlfriend flipped the loads. You know you’re good friends when you do one another’s laundry.

Half-way through our meal in a sunny spot on the grass behind the laundromat, the vase omen started taking effect when the mechanic called.

Bad news.

“You should probably come in and we can talk.”

Well that’s never a good thing to hear from any sort of doctor, car or otherwise.

I asked for further information and he rattled a list of issues with prices to boot that left my Thai spiced mouth hanging wide open.

And so the obvious question came up: “Can we drive it home tonight?”

They paused.

I gulped.

“I wouldn’t.”

Fantastic!

 

 

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But we had just gotten our permanent registration! Which, of course, is non-transferable.

 

 

 

 

I asked them what would make the drive less of a hazard and they said an oil change (since apparently there was a leak and all of the oil had drained) with a possible patch was the best they could do in the time they had (it was already after 3pm) and they didn’t even know if they’d have time for that. They’d let me know. With heaps of laundry folding ahead of us, I told them I’d be over ASAP and we’d decide from there.

I tried to stay calm and seek out the most positive outlook I could find. Maybe it would be fine and we would be on our way by 5, 6pm at the latest.

Right?

Yet, despite my intentional optimism, we both knew it was time to start making other plans. The truck my girlfriend had dropped off needed repair but was due to be done by close of business. I sheepishly asked if we could drive her truck home instead, a new potential plan that was not the plan at all.

You see, she had driven in with her husband a few days before to drop him off, leave the truck for him for when he returned 10 days later and she would come home with me.

If we took the truck and ours wasn’t ready for him when he returned he would be stranded.

Not exactly ideal.

Still, it was starting to look like our only option if we wanted to get home since we both had to work the next day (I had agreed in the midst of our vase excitement to cover someone’s shift, despite how much I was looking forward to getting home and finally resting for a day).

We finished up laundry and waved goodbye as we packed the fresh clothes into the next taxi.

Taxi #3

As we drove away I noticed the sign on the door: “No dogs allowed”.

Whoops!

We headed to the mechanic from where I called The Chief and put him on speaker phone so he could hear firsthand the bind we were in (and so I wouldn’t have to try to explain all the issues rattled off to me). He was at work, operating heavy machinery and had to strain to hear the details of our diesel’s ailments. It wasn’t looking good. Finally, we came to an agreement: they would let us store our truck there until they were able to look at it again in three weeks. Three weeks?! Then they would test the engine (at a cost of $400 big ones) to see if rebuilding the transmission was even worth it.

Oh joy!

I checked in with my girlfriend whom was patiently waiting outside amongst our laundry and the pooch. She had talked to her mechanic and he was certain he could get us on the road that night. The husband we would have to figure out later.

I went back in and confirmed the expensive game plan and went to empty out the truck. Before I could even get there, one of the mechanics started to drive it away, I ran up to him and he paused long enough for me to explain, at which point he asked if the truck was mine or mine and my husbands.

Smooth, very smooth.

Here I was, emptying my truck, unsure of when I would see her again and under what conditions and this guy was checking my marital status? The omen continued.

Finally, all gathered, I brought my belongings over to my girlfriend where we were waiting for yet another taxi.

Taxi #4.

And then…we started laughing. Looking at our current predicament, we couldn’t help it.

 

 

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Completely invoking India Arie…

 

 

We looked like (laundry) Bag Ladies with a cooler and a pup to boot. I was sitting on the Igloo eating the rest of my Thai food when the taxi showed up, just as the crew was leaving for the day.

“Are you guys moving in?”

We laughed harder.

In we went to the taxi, cooler and all to the next location: the other mechanic to pick up my girlfriend’s truck.

It was just about finished when my girlfriend realized that the other reason they were leaving the truck in town was so that it could get new tires. They were bad. Really bad. The mechanic decided he couldn’t let us leave without a spare and so he rifled one up for us.

 

 

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The Chief checking in. “How are you two?” Well honey, we are sitting in the middle of the road on top of laundry, scarcely avoiding cars, acquiring many strange looks and I feel like I am about to be sick. But Cinda is healthy so…all good.

 

 

Finally, an hour later, we were ready.

Time for grocery shopping.

It was already 6pm. Costco closed at 7pm and we still had Natural Pantry. The hustle was on. Screw Home Depot.

It was Go Time.

We flew through Natural Pantry where I grabbed all the cold remedies I could find. It was coming on strong. My eyes started turning red and the cold sweats began. This was not good.

We flew to Costco and realized that with 30 minutes to close the trip was pointless. In a last-minute Should We Take This Exit, Naw, Screw It movie-like moment we left town. We needed to get on the road and it was worth saving time to spend a little more money at Freddy’s.

And so, off we went.

By the time we made it to Freddy’s 45 minutes later the cold hadn’t just set in, it had moved in and I wasn’t so sure that it was a cold anymore.

It felt like last year’s tonsil attack.

Please, no.

We spent 30 minutes deciding what to do. It was 8pm and we had 7-8 hours of driving ahead of us. Best case scenario, we would get in at 3am and as we had pointed out to one another, we weren’t 20 years old anymore.

It was time to give in to The Day. We bowed our heads. We were beat.

We admitted defeat after an epic going back and forth game of ping-pong.

Should we try to push through?

Should we just stay in the town we were in and drive 7-8 hours tomorrow?

Should we try to go halfway?

Finally, I found a hotel two hours away that would take us and the pooch. It was a start on the drive at least and a move towards home that was feasible. We decided to go for it.

And then it was time for grocery shopping.

 

 

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This pretty much sums up our whole day. 

 

 

A fever had set in and suddenly the list I had kept so clear in my mind turned into a jumbled mess. I did my best to push through but the fog I was in was evident.

“You don’t look so good” my friend told me.

I didn’t feel so good.

An hour of delirious shopping later (did I need bread or bananas? I don’t know) and we were off. Thankfully, my girlfriend was up for the drive and after feeding trooper Lou a parking lot dinner (thank goodness I had packed extra food. Premonition?) and repacking the truck with our new booty, we were off.

Within an hour I started to realize just how in trouble I was. Despite the blasting heat my girlfriend was kind enough to endure on my behalf, my body started shaking so badly and my teeth chattering so hard from fever that I thought I was going to break a tooth.

Finally, we arrived at our mark for the night. The very sweet innkeeper gave me an extra comforter and I pulled it together enough to get into the shower. Tears rolled down my face as my achy body refused to warm until my skin was bright red from the scalding water 20 minutes later.

I fell into bed as my girlfriend suggested she try to make me an appointment for a doctor the next day.

Thank goodness for girlfriends.

I fell asleep immediately and then…

Awoke to the sudden need to vomit at 5am.

I am not a puker.

I crawled back into bed, my head pounding and my throat screaming until we had to leave at 8am to get to the appointment she had made for me at 9am.

Thank goodness for doctors and hooray for medicine!

They took one look at me and started ordering antibiotics. After a tonsil exam the doctor concluded that in fact it was strep throat I was under siege from, not tonsilitis, but he recommended that I have them taken out nonetheless as they looked like they had more battle wounds than a seasoned samurai, after which he told me that I was too old to have them out though, because it was going to hurt like the bajeezus.

Great.

Thanks, doc.

By the time I got out of there, one round of antibiotics and fifty cents poorer (thank you, Medicaid!) it was already 11am. I had slept in between the doctors comings and goings and hadn’t realized how late it was. My girlfriend still had to get to work.

Like a trooper, she drove the whole way home as I went in and out of sleep from pain and fever.

When we finally arrived she helped me unload my bounty and another hour later, after I had settled the house and cuddled the Lou, thanking her for her companionship and patience along the way, it was off to bed with me.

I settled in for two days of Rip Van Winkle like sleep for hours on end, only to wake and read for 30 minutes and then fall asleep again for another few hours.

After months of go-go-go my steam was gone-gone-gone.

 

 

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I felt like this emo Dryas Drummondi

 

 

And so, for the first time since the Summer began The Chief and I had (sickness imposed) time off together.

We spent two whole days inside listening to the rain, reading and napping. The weather cooperated with our efforts and remained cold and wet enough for two fires (and funky enough that sunshine guilt didn’t spoil our sleepy parade).

And so, despite a missing truck and a throat of fire and a propensity for sleep like I’d never had before, I felt more at peace than I’d felt in months, than I’d felt in seasons, than I’d felt since Winter.

It’s a Crazy Fun-Filled No Sleep Till Brooklyn kind of pace out here in the Summer and to have that moment of respite was a welcome relief, despite the no good, very bad, awful (but still giggle filled) days that we had to endure to get to it. At some points I felt like we’d never make it home…

But we did.

Home, sweet home. I wouldn’t trade you for a jacuzzi tub any day.

Stay healthy out there, and beware the omens for the days when all hell breaks loose or at least try to laugh yourself through them.

 

 

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Here’s hoping…and wishing.

 

 

The Long Way Home: The Nitty Gritty, Three Weeks in the Making Version

Despite our stay lasting a mere two months, packing up from our stint in California was quite the feat.

We had moved upwards of 10 times while in the good ‘ol CA, from house sitting to housesitting to our RV in one place, then moving it to another place, then to out of our RV due to a major mold takeover (and my health gone with it), to housesitting, to staying with parents, to visiting parents, to visiting friends, to housesitting to staying in our friends’ awesome Airstream to parents once again. We were packing fiends. Packing, unpacking, repeat and repeat and repeat. In and out of place after place. The funniest part of it all was that most of our time in California we were living with less amenities than we have in the woods. Especially in the RV we didn’t have hot water or a stove or showers or toilets or even phone service. All this way from the woods and we were taking steps backwards? We had to laugh at the irony.

Two weeks before we left CA we took one last spin in the RV, caravan style and headed down South to The Chief’s parents’ house.

 

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Cinda Jones and the birthday plant I stole from my mama, riding shotgun. Thanks, DCG!

 

After three days out in the beautiful foothills it was time to batten down the hatches and bid adieu to both family and our trusty (musty) RV home.

 

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Perhaps the Summer will bake out the mold? Mmmm, tasty.

 

Upon our return up North, we reached my parents’ house. It would be our last move and last place to call Home for our last week in CA before starting our journey to our Home Home in Alaska.

That last week was a constant manipulation of time and energy. Tidying up little loose ends took, as usual, longer than planned and so instead of spending quality time with my Mama, we spent most of the time maniacally running around amidst the holiday shoppers, checking things off lists upon lists. We organized the storage unit (and one day I trapped myself in a corner by accidentally encircling myself by ominous mountains of boxes…whoops!). We packed and re-packed again and again (I was determined to be under the bag weight limit this year) and tried to decipher what should come.

You see, when we left Alaska this Fall, it was still Summer in California and so we had packed for three seasons in California: Summer (hot, hot, hot), Fall (crisp but often still hot) and Winter (damp “get in your bones” rainy time). Now, we really only needed Winter apparel, and Winter in Alaska apparel at that, none of which we had in California (it was all waiting for us in our truck in AK). But what was to be done with all the other seasonal clothing? To take or leave? I found myself asking “Do I wear tank tops in the Winter?” Of course not, but in reality? I actually do. Our house ends up getting to 70-80 degrees on the daily due to my fire feeding habits. And so, the field of what to bring grew larger as my bags seemingly shrunk before my eyes (they do that, right?) Plus, come Summer in Alaska I would need all my California Summer & Fall & Winter clothes (since the weather ranges in a day what California ranges in months) but between key storage finds (real cloth napkins?!) We were getting fancy in the woods this Winter) and things (read:books) we had acquired over the two months of our stay plus the three seasons worth of clothes we had already brought, my suitcases were bulging.

Finally, the bags zipped for the last time as the week came to a speedy end. I visited the Ocean and hiked the hills one last time and said “goodbye” to a land and people whom I love, for now.

It was time to go.

After some serious packing, stacking and securing maneuvers we five (Cinda, my parents, The Chief and myself) plus four suitcases, two carry-ons and an XL dog crate were off to our night flight from San Francisco.

We made it with time to spare and spent a foggy-eyed few minutes hugging and kissing our way to goodbye. I feel lucky to say that no matter how old I am, I always miss my Mama. We hollered teary “Love you”‘s as they drove away and the now three of us navigated our way inside with our luggage brigade precariously placed all atop one cart.

Cinda was immediately on alert.

She

Is

Not

A

Fan.

She knew the inevitable squish into the kennel was coming and I could feel her anxiety surge as we entered the bustling SFO.

Since we had so much time before our flight and since our last-minute zippering up of bags had taken the whole day which meant Cinda Lou hadn’t gotten a walk, we decided I should walk her around and find the elusive “Pet Relief” area. I had looked it up on the website on our way down and could not, for the life of me, figure out where it was. We approached the Information Booth and the man said he “could try to explain it” but that it was “best to just walk diagonally across the entire terminal to the next Information Booth and ask there”. From there we would be closer.

Hmm.

Cinda and I headed out and 5 minutes later arrived to a new man with a new map with the same puzzled look on his face.

“I think, if you head down these escalators and then make a few weird turns you’ll eventually see the paw prints” he said after making us wait another five minutes while helping others with what he called “easier” questions.

What were we getting ourselves into? Some kind of underground pet society? Would we face an initiation? At this point, we were going either way.

Finally we spotted the paw prints which led us out and around and under and finally to the mysterious Pet Relief Area.

 

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And she was relieved.

 

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Panic no more Jones, we found it.

 

 

You know when you have to use the bathroom, but only a little yet as you head towards it and realize it’s occupied you suddenly have to use the bathroom a lot a lot a lot? The look in Cinda’s eyes as we went further and further into the depths of SFO with no end in sight told the same story.

But we had made it in time. All was good. We sang “follow the white puppy prints” (sung to the tune of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, of course) all the way to the pen.

At this point we had been gone almost 40 minutes so after a few chases around the pen and ear scratches, it was time to go. We raced back just in time to get in the suddenly multiplying line.

Then we saw it: Delayed.

Our layover in Seattle was 41 minutes, a flight we had chosen and raved about because of the shorter overall time Cinda would be cooped up in her cage. We were such good parents.

Right?

By the time we reached the kiosk there had been another delay. At this point we would have 10 minutes to reach our connecting flight.

“What were you even thinking booking a flight with such a short connection time?” the woman at the desk asked us.

I guess being morons, apparently. Good Parent Award out the window. We weren’t going to make our connection, she assured us.

Great!

But, there was some good news, she promised. She could (hopefully) put us on the next flight out of Seattle. With the delay as it stood we should be just fine and the overall time wouldn’t be extended. We just had to “make sure we caught that flight since it was the last one of the night” she warned us.

Just then, we saw another alert: another delay to our already twice delayed plane. My heart sunk. We’d already been on our way for weeks now, ever since we dropped off the RV and now, so close to the finish line and we might not even make it today?

Stay calm.

We put our bags on the scales and…I hadn’t made it. I was four pounds over the limit. But, just then, our luck puffed up again as the bag handler, a buff man no taller than me who could probably lift three of me, looked at me, looked at the scale, looked at the lady booking our flights, smiled and nodded.

No charge.

Booyah!

Things were looking up.

For Cinda, however, they were looking grim.

We headed over to the Oversize Baggage area with the Muscle Man himself and proceeded to, as gently as possible, shove little Lou into her cage. There was no bribing her in there or coaxing her to comply, it was sheer (gentle) force. Thank goodness we had Mr. Muscles there for backup. In the shuffle of getting in the kennel, Miss Lou knocked over her water from her “no-spill” water bowl but it was too late, apparently. The zip ties were already on the cage and Muscles was already carting her away.

“She’s like our child!” we called after him like the animal loving, over-protective lunatic parents we are as we stood there watching her roll away. There’s a panic that sets in when flying your furry loved one in the cargo of the plane, and as we realized we no longer had control over the situation we turned in for a hug.

Hugs help.

And so, dogchild-less, it was time for security. Easy-peasy. Just remove all of your humanity, put it into these tiny boxes and try not to forget anything as you rush through like a herd of cattle.

The plane was boarding by the time we made it through but we’d had nothing to eat so The Chief stopped quickly to grab us dinner. In the midst of paying he realized his ID was gone.

The food was ready, the plane on second boarding and there I stood waiting anxiously as The Chief ran all the way back to Security.

It had to be there. If not, we weren’t getting on in Seattle. A second possible derailment of our journey loomed overhead but minutes later, I saw The Chief smiling and running back to me.

Phew!

We got on the plane at Last Call and they were all buckled up and ready to go. Except when we got to our row our seats were taken by a family. They said they could move if we really wanted them to but the stewards and stewardesses were hurrying so we just plopped down in their seats (I still never quite understood why they had done the switcheroo in the first place since they knew they weren’t in their seats but hey, it matters none, I guess). Everything was a Go except for one small detail: our Lou.

When you have a dog in Cargo the airline is required to provide proof that the dog is on board via a ticket stub attached to her kennel by her parents. No ticket no go.

No ticket.

“Ready for takeoff” we heard over the loudspeakers.

Before I could even ring the stewardess button The Chief was on it. They assured us that she was on board.

No, that’s not going to work for us.

Minutes later another stewardess flashed what could have been just a blank piece of paper at us from the front of the plane and mouthed (I think) “I got it” and immediately again “Ready for takeoff” came on over the loudspeakers.

Nope. Not good enough.

I ran to the front of the plane, chased after by another stewardess who seemed to appear out of nowhere who hissed at me “Do not run!” in the quietest yell one can muster. I didn’t care. We needed that ticket.

I finished my jog and saw that the paper she held was indeed our ticket (thank goodness) and walked back, a bit embarrassed but glad to know our pooch was in tow, with the angry stewardess following closely behind. Geez.

We taxied to the runway and with that…

we waited.

The plane was delayed. Again.

 

Please, please let us make the last Seattle plane to Alaska.

Please.

 

Thankfully, we did.

 

Of course, we landed on the complete opposite side of the airport from our gate at the not so small SeaTac, but two tram stops and a run later and we panted our way onto the already boarded plane.

The flight was packed and…

when we had been re-routed by the agent at SFO we were no longer sitting next to one another. This was the last leg of the night flight. The “I’m so glad I’m sitting next to my significant other right now since I’m drooling on the person next to me and the person next to me is thankfully him.”

Don’t pretend you don’t drool too. You do, right?

No, we were rows away from one another for the sleepiest, longest leg of the journey. Good luck unknowing stranger next to me.

Again we went through the rigmarole of getting our tags for Lou. They assured us she was down below but couldn’t produce the tag. I thought The Chief was going to turn into a taller version of Mr. Muscles as he flexed his Daddy Love in the face of their oppositions.

“Sir, it’s fine, she’s almost definitely on board.”

Almost + Definitely =nope, not going to work.

Despite all eyes of the plane (again) on us we stood strong until they finally found the tag.

GEEEEEEEZ!

I had a quick flashback in that moment to a time when my Grandfather was thrown off a plane not so long ago for being obstinate (I guess it runs in the family) and crossed my fingers we would all three make the flight home.

Home. It seemed so unattainable.

As we prepared to take off yet again I texted our friend who had offered to pick us up at the airport in Anchorage, even though our original flight had us landing at 2am and told him not to worry, that we would get a cab to their house.

He, being the trooper that he is, wouldn’t hear of it and so, hours later we three and our six bags greeted a welcome familiar face.

And Lou greeted the snow.

 

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Pup Snow Angels

 

 

I felt like I could breathe again.

Sure, we still had days to go before we would actually be home but finally, finally, we had made it onto Alaskan soil. It had felt like an impossibility.

We settled in for the night at our sweet friend’s house and succeeded in only waking up 1/3 of the sleeping inhabitants.

Success!?

The next day The Chief had a sinus check-up which he thankfully passed with flying colors after which we took a cab to the garage where the fire truck was being serviced.

With a set of wheels again we were all set to finally get to shopping but by then it was already 6pm. The sun had set hours before and there was no sense in starting our food shopping since we obviously wouldn’t be able to get it done in time to leave the next morning. We shopped, unsuccessfully, until everything closed, for new Winter boots for me (since my feet had apparently decided to grow since last year) and then gave in for the day. And so, we settled in for the night, planning to do all of our errands, to buy all of our supplies for the next three months, tomorrow.

After a night of reunions with our hosting friends the next day didn’t exactly get off to an early start, but start it did.

But not before a little walk to the park.

 

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Snow. I never thought I’d miss snow.

 

 

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This was just too much for me not to record. Back to Alaska but not quite back to the wild.

 

Let the shopping begin.

Oh wait, first let me forget my wallet at home so that we have to carve out 45 minutes of our day driving back and forth and then…

Let the shopping begin.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Vegas but if you have, and if you’ve gone in without a budget in mind, you can relate. Before half the day had gone by I was sickened by spending money. It was overwhelming. It always is.

But, we rallied together, trading off having little melt downs and saying words of encouragement to one another to get through the day. It’s funny the phases you hit.

  1. Excitement and Optimism (read: caffeine): “We are doing great!” and “It probably won’t even take the whole day!” and “I made detailed lists for each store” are phrases often naively expressed.
  2. The First Big Expenditure: “Dang, that was more than I thought it would be” is often uttered, accompanied by a lowering of enthusiasm. But still, you must push on.
  3. Fatigue: “Do we really need this?” is uttered while staring zombie-like at toilet paper and other necessities. Yes. Yes, you need that. Buckle up, buttercup, the day isn’t even halfway over.
  4. Minor Meltdown: Realize you haven’t eaten. Eat.
  5. The Fuck-Its: Sorry for the swear but it’s the best way to describe it. “We missed the milk, should I go back and get it?” someone asks while already in line. “Fuck it” the other replies. Or, “Should I get lemons? Will we have enough warm space?” followed up by a “Fuck it” said to yourself as you grab not one, but two bags. Fuck it.
  6. The Check-Out: “Oh man, you guys must be hungry!” says the checker as everyone in line behind you wishes they’d picked a better line. We organize our carts (yes, carts plural) according to freezable and non-freezable items so they can be boxed up as such. So needless to say, checking out takes a loooooooong time.
  7. The panic: We service the fire truck when we go to Town and it has a beyond tiny area to house all of our non-perishables which must all fit behind bench seat (it’s not an extended cab and there is no backseat so basically it’s a six-inch wide stacking situation. How are we going to fit everything? But, at this point it’s not a how as in, can we fit everything? The deal is done, it’s about how to fit everything. Let the Tetris games begin.
  8. The Return Home or to the Hotel and The Unpack: Just when you are beyond tired from an entire day of navigating through frozen streets and angry drivers and you finally arrive home and want nothing more than to zonk out, that’s when the next rounds of Tetris begin. Bringing round after round of all of the non-perishables inside (and subsequently taking over our friends’ house), covering all freezables that will be left, unsecured, in the truck over night and crossing your fingers they’ll be there when you wake up.
  9. You Think You’re Done but You’re Not: You’re inside, warm, maybe even eating something delicious but your mind is elsewhere. You’re planning tomorrow full of unrealistic timings and to-dos: wake up at 6am, re-pack everything (plus luggage and a dog crate and two humans and a dog) in ten minutes, shop before heading to the Department of Human Services (I had gotten lost in the system and since they wouldn’t answer their phone, the only solution was a visit and the only chance I had to visit was on our leaving day) and get out of town by 10 am at the latest. Cute, very cute.

And so our Town Run went something like that. We forgot things, were gawked at in Costco, had minor meltdowns and build-ups, spent more money in a day than feels civil and returned exhausted and on high alert. But, we did it.

 

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Carts 1&2 out of 3

 

 

The next morning we were off!

Sort of.

We did wake at 6am, according to plan (high-five, self!) but re-packing a truck in the freezing dark of the morning takes more than 10 minutes. You know that, I knew that but did I budget the time for it? Naw.

Finally, after nearly suffocating the entire household with the fumes from the backed-up-as-close-to-the-house-as-possible-to-prevent-theft truck we were on our way. Sure, it was already 8:45am and we certainly weren’t going to fit in shopping before the DHS but, oh well. We were moving, nonetheless. We waved goodbye to our now polluted-by-our-fumes-friends and off we went.

 

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You’re not mad at us, are you TheRon?

 

The mechanic had mentioned that the heater wasn’t working but we already knew that. I mean, it worked, a little, or at least enough last year in the Winter to get us home. Plus, as he mentioned, it’s mainly a Summer vehicle.

Yea?

It turns out it had worsened since we had last experienced it and temperatures were much lower than they had been last year (in the 20’s) and so we shivered our way to the government building.

“I’ll be back in just a bit, babe!” I said as I jumped out of the truck, paperwork in hand. I was in the first phase of errands again, excited and optimistic.

An hour plus later, paperwork still in hand with no telling how much longer it would be, I moved out of Stage One all the way to the Fuck It Stage. It didn’t matter if I had healthcare, right? I’m sure I would eventually get hold of someone on the phone eventually if I called enough from home. I was wasting daylight, we should just leave.

A text from The Chief (he was out running odds and ends errands) was perfectly timed, telling me to take all the time I needed and he would be handling things until I was done.

Yea, I love him.

Finally, my name was called. After 45 minutes and jumping through plenty of bureaucratic loops, I walked out triumphant.

Now, we were on the road!

We decided to drive out of Town to the next town (and last stop for a mainstream (think, has anything and will actually be open) grocery store) so we could feel like we were at least making progress.

As we were just about to hit the freeway we noticed a car had run up over a snow bank. In California, I can honestly (though still with shame) say that I’ve seen people on the side of the road with a stopped car and not stopped. They just seemed to have it handled already and it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just not as much the culture. Alaska brings out the best in me in that way because here people truly need to help one another, and so they do. By the time we had pulled over (we had simultaneously said “We should stop”. Jinx!) two other groups of people had stopped to help too. Three different groups of people came together and the car was out in a jiffy. The wife was so grateful that she hugged us as she said “Thank you”.

 

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I love Alaska.

An hour later we arrived at our destination town. All we had to do was grab a short list of groceries, fill up two 55-gallon drums with gasoline, fill up the truck’s two tanks and we were done and on our way for real (clearly, we were back in good ‘ol Stage One)!

Halfway through the produce section, we knew behind the seat wasn’t going to cut it and so, loving a girl who loves vegetables, The Chief came up with a plan. We would unpack the truck to get to our clothing, buy a tote in the store, line it with the clothes, fill up a water bottle with hot water to fight off the ever-dropping temperatures outside, fill the next layer of the tote with perishables, followed by another layer of clothing. He’s a smarty.

By the time we were finished shopping Cinda needed to get out and stretch her bones and so I walked the pooch while The Chief played a whole new level of Tetris. I returned to fetch the water bottle and headed inside to see if the coffee shop would fill it. 10 minutes later I returned.

“Did you get my text?”

Sure didn’t.

We had forgotten ratchet straps inside and so, The Chief and I traded and he went in this time to collect the last of the forgottens and to use the restroom.

I distracted myself from how late we were by plucking Cinda’s undercoat out and making it into a toupee.

 

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She was not amused, but she let me do it anyways.

 

By the time he came back I now had to use the restroom.

One more trip inside.

Now that the whole family had used the facilities, the truck was once again reconfigured and my veggies were on board, all we had left was to pump gas and we were done.

Oh and try to fix the heater.

The Chief fashioned a block against cold air going into the radiator via cardboard and we hoped for the best. That first hour’s drive had been a very cold one. The heater blew only cold air, so cold that we couldn’t tell if it was actually any warmer than the air outside. Well, fingers crossed for the magic of cardboard.

Now gas and gone!

150 gallons of gas (two 55-gallon barrels and two 20-gallon tanks on the truck) takes so much more time than I ever allow for.

Two hours from when we had arrived in the last town for a “quick stop for last-minute essentials” we were on our way.

 

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So much trust in four simple straps.

 

 

Except, wait.

It was Winter now and lunchtime and once we left this town it would be 5 hours before anything we saw another store or anything edible. All of the very few stops the Summer months have to offer are closed in the Winter. So, despite being beyond ready to leave, we had to stop once more for food.

Ok, now, now we are on our way.

And finally, we were.

 

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About an hour into the drive, we decided that the cardboard was in fact taking the edge off but that we were still slowly turning into human ice sculptures. I wiggled my toes incessantly in my boots to try to heat them but they were numb within minutes from the cold. I get cold. The Chief on the other hand rarely succumbs to that human reality. Yet, as I looked over at him as we scaled the roads through the mountains and the cold air blew, I could see he felt it too.

I remembered Grandma Jane had given me hand warmers last year that I had stashed in my suitcase again this year, just in case, for this exact kind of occasion.

But in which exact suitcase and where exactly they were, I hadn’t the faintest clue.

We decided to try a search anyways and pulled over. The winds were whipping and instantly my hands were frozen. Again, we had to re-tetris the load so that I could access my bags in the hopes that I had placed them in an outside zipper. I wedged my hand in between the freezing metal of the truck and the zipper of my bag.

No luck.

I tried each zipper on both bags but I couldn’t reach the far recesses of one and by then we were both frozen to the core.

We decided to give in to our frosty ride and just grin and bare it. I was about to jump off the truck when I realized my pink robe was accessible. I grabbed it and an accessible sweater, jumped out of the bed, spent a few minutes standing directly in front of the exhaust to take off the chill and jumped into what now felt like a warm truck by comparison to outside.

The Chief looked at the robe and giggled at me.

An hour later, after I had found yet another layer stashed away in the cab of the truck to cover myself, I pushed him to take the robe. I could tell he was freezing.

He looked glorious.

Hours later we made it to the last town before the turn-off. We gassed up, bought hand warmers and hot drinks at the small market, took Lou on a little jaunt where she made snow angel upon snow angel and then packed back into the truck.

No more stops.

Next stop: Home.

It was so close I could feel it.

All the stress, all the travel, all the uncertainty and endlessness of it all suddenly wrapped up into a paper ball which I sunk into an imaginary trash can. I could relax.

We were almost home.

By “almost home” I mean we still had four plus hours left but it didn’t matter. We were over the halfway mark.

Two hours later, we turned onto The Road, our 60 mile driveway, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Road glaciers beware, we were determined to make it home.

 

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We stopped to celebrate the start of the road and stepped out to the fresh prints of a lynx.

 

The Road was in surprisingly good condition and after only a few hairy moments of sliding downhill while pointed uphill driving over road glaciers, we approached the turn for our house. Five minutes and a seriously bumpy 4-wheeling time down the driveway and we had made it.

We were finally home.

We hooted and hollered and hugged and kissed our way into the house.

We were welcomed not only via signage but also by a house well above the freezing temperatures outside (45 degrees inside!). Our lovely neighbors had spent the day building and then checking and adding to a fire in our wood stove. Had they not, that cold ride home would have paled in comparison to the cold night ahead of us. We felt so lucky. (Thank you S&A!)

 

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It said “Welcome”, I swear. Excited photography blooper.

 

 

We spent the rest of the night carrying in necessities and exclaiming how we still couldn’t believe we had made it and how, at the same time, it felt like we had never left.

Finally, exhausted from months of packing and unpacking and being in a state of constant vigilance not to forget anything or leave anything behind, I settled in for the night. The Chief was still on a high from making it home and needed to wind down with some tunes, but me? I was toast.

As the first one into bed, I became the official Bed Defroster. It was still hard as a rock. The surfaces of the room were shiny with ice crystals and the windows had frost coming through every nook and cranny it could find.

 

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I suited up for my defrosting mission: long johns followed by fleece pants, wool socks, sweatshirt, hat and as many blankets as I could find. I jumped onto the bed (it’s quite high and I’m well, not) and landed with a resounding “thud”, reminding me again of my defrosting mission. I crawled under the covers and did a little dance to get a semblance of heat going. And I did. And thankfully once I get going I am a little heater. And so, by the time The Chief crawled in a few hours later we had an almost cozy place to rest our heads.

And rest we did.

Until the chores called and all the packing up of the cabin we’d done in the Fall needed to be un-done.

But that was for the morning. Our three-week journey home had ended.

 

We were home.

 

Sweet dreams.

 

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

Bluebell

I spent the later part of this Winter learning how to drive:

1. in the snow and

2. in a stick shift.

I patted my own back as I began to learn how to control a slide, to drive in slush and ice and everything not so nice and eventually, I took my first long voyage to a girlfriend’s house 15 miles away.

It was triumphant.

With the exception of the end.

Back then, Ole Lady Jack in the Box had little to no shocks and her back-end wobbled all over the road at the slightest interference like a less than predictable belly dancer. But just as I would feel about to lose control, she would snap back into action. It was my first time in 4th gear and my first time with passengers that weren’t my person (The Chief). Our neighbor and her pup and my other neighbor’s pup who relentlessly followed up for a few miles until we just decided to kidnap him for the day and Miss Cinda all packed into Lady Jack and headed to another girlfriend’s house on The Lake 15 miles away. It was relatively smooth sailing despite the rocky waters of The Road and the inexperienced Captain (yours truly) but we got there in one piece and high fives were definitely in order.  All I had to do was turn around once we reached The Lake to face homeways before we trekked on foot across the frozen waters.

Funny thing was, I couldn’t quite find 1st gear after spending so much time out of it. With a cliff heading down to The Lake behind us and a 1.5 car road and blind turn in front of us, I set out to find 1st and right us in the direction homeward (that’s a thing out here. You always pull into a destination in a way so that you are faced homewards. I don’t know if it stemmed from fire trucks in our family or what, but it’s a habit and one I see almost everyone do out here and ya know, it makes a whole lot of sense).

7 tries later I finally found a little momentum. I caught the gear, a little too hard and flew forward enough to stall the car and land on the horn. The stall coupled with the high-pitched and long “meep” of the horn left us in tears from laughter. I swear the dogs were even laughing (after they were done rolling their eyes). A few tries afterwards I found 1st again and about ten minutes later we were turned homewards, without falling off the cliff or running into an oncoming car.

Success!

The rest of the day was spent spotting bald eagles and their babies and walking with the dogs along The Lake (we had acquired 4 more at this point. Outnumbered again.) as they found salmon to munch on and the ladies caught up.

 

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I doubt it will ever cease to amaze me how flowing water turns seamlessly into a slippery highway.

 

Oh girl time, how I love thee.

That night, The Chief and my girlfriend’s husband ended up driving out to The Lake as well and due to a raucous party in my belly to which I had not been invited to chaperone, The Chief drove us home.

So, that morning was my last time driving a stick shift in any gear higher than 3rd on The Road. I’ve never even been off The Road, never driven on anything other than the fertile learning grounds of 60 miles of bumpy and deserted lands and thus have never entered a highway or driven in stop and go traffic.

But suddenly I was about to. You see, I spoke too soon.

And I should have known better.

 

The tonsils struck back.

After last week’s adventures in Abscess Land I figured I was free. Sure, the idea that they might come back again was in the very back of my mind but I haven’t organized back there in a while and it was easy to look past. All was good.

But again, I spoke too soon.

Just as I published last week’s post I felt it: the heat. My right ear started pulsing again and my ear and neck felt as if they were on fire.

Again?!

I called my doctor in California and she promptly advised me to “hop on a plane to California. The infection may be coming back and who knows where it will land next”. She would send in a referral sight unseen for me to see an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat specialist) and I would likely have a Tonsillectomy.

I half choked on her words as I almost laughed a response out of nervousness. Hop on a plane? The nearest airport is 8 plus hours away. Correction: the nearest airport is 3.5 miles away. I can get there on foot. That being said, that airport brings in mail twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays on small planes packed to the gills. Those would be the only days I could potentially get out via air (if they weren’t already booked with passengers) and it would cost a pretty penny just to get to Anchorage where again, pennies would get even prettier as I purchased my way back to California. In addition to that, simply going to the high town here (at an increase of 1,000 ft.) made my ears go crazy so jumping in a plane sounded more like a torture chamber than a refuge.

But what could I do? Kaiser would only refer me to Kaiser and guess what?

There’s no Kaiser in Alaska.

Who knew?

Well, I for one did and I for one did nothing to start working out my medical situation in Alaska in anticipation of a future need for care.

Care I needed right then.

Plan ahead? That’s cute of you to suggest. No, I think I’ll go for the fly by the seat of your pants and potentially have to sell the shirt off your back to pay for it approach. Yes, that sounds much more serene.

After hours and hours and hours on the phone trying to figure out my best options through MediCal, Medicare in Alaska, Kaiser and Partnership (some go-between for MediCal and Kaiser that is confusing to everyone in the medical system) to get in to see an ENT, it dawned on me:

The Chief and I had basically spent the entire Winter with his ENT. Maybe they would see me.

No referral needed. They set me up with an appointment for that coming Friday.

Perfect.

Now then, our car was (and is) still broken and we can’t very well steal away in a Fire truck during a time of extreme fire danger, but make the appointment I did.

Our neighbor came to our rescue lending us his valiant Subaru steed and with that we were set. I called around for a vet appointment for Cinda as well as she had been having some older lady problems that we had been unable to get her in for and when you’re going to Town you pack in every appointment you can. Two birds? Why not try for 20 with one stone. Try we did.

Town Run.

This time, it was a Town Run on steroids.

Our plan: leave Thursday, return Friday night.

20 hours of driving in 36 hours.

And we were going to share the driving.

Gulp. Stick shift training in a hurry.

Why the rush? Saturday was packed to the gills: there was a Fire Department Kickball Game & Cookout Fundraiser and I was performing with the local band at the bar for our first gig. We had to make it back.

All week I made phone calls trying to finagle a way to ensure this visit and the potential CTs and Xrays the doctor had suggested would somehow be covered. Many times throughout the week, even though I still had to take loads of Ibuprofen to function and couldn’t make it through any evening event, I tried to convince The Chief that maybe we were wasting our time.

“Julia, you had an abscess on top of Tonsillitis which blew up in your mouth. We are going to the doctor.”

Fine, sheesh.

He’s good like that. You see the thing is, (gross part approaching) as I had guessed, the drainage of an abscess is supposed to happen in the hospital and then following the drainage, patient’s are given a high dosage shot of Penicillin. And it didn’t quite roll out that way.

I guess he had a point. Besides, my Mom was in California backing up The Chief’s every call with a Do You Need Me To Come Up There And Drag You To The Doctor Myself Mom Voice so I knew I was going no matter what.

But I was still worried about the money because who knew where in the system this was coming from but if it didn’t land somewhere, it was coming from me and me is not exactly rolling in the dough.

“You are getting the care you need. I don’t care if we have to pay it off for the next 20 years.”

I have never had someone so blatantly and selflessly throw themselves on the line for me (other than my Mom) and make me feel like we are in it together no matter what.

I was honored (though I still tried to get out of it).

But I didn’t get out of it and so we left Thursday, ready to return Friday and hoping the doctors wouldn’t require us to stay longer (we’d experienced that move before and were poised to debate it if we needed to).

We left with a zoom, as if we were gathering running momentum in order to pole vault ourselves back. A few times I thought The Chief might ask me to drive and I readied myself for the challenge despite the intense pain building in my ears as we went up and down and up and down the mountains. But he didn’t.

No driving yet.

We stopped about 4 hours from home at the nearest DMV. About a month ago I was on a Girl Trip day mission to the same town to get two things done: loads of laundry and licensing at the DMV. Since I’ve lived here since December (and you’re supposed to change over licenses after living somewhere for something like 30 days, I’ve just found out) I was way out-of-bounds. But I was hesitant. I liked my CA license. I’d never had anything else. It felt like I was saying “goodbye” and it made me apprehensive.

That is until we showed up at 11am on a Thursday and the DMV was closed. In that moment, I realized that a license is just a license and I needed my license in AK. My heart and at times my feet will always have a place in California but in order to get this whole medical shebang moving, I needed to come at it legitimately.

But living in small towns means small DMVs, DMVs like you’ve probably (I hadn’t) never seen before. It’s a one room tiny building with one owner/operator whom obviously (though it wasn’t obvious to me before arriving) is able to set her own hours of operation. 9-5? Think again.

When I saw that Closed sign I knew I wanted that license. Leave it to Alaska to give you just what you were secretly asking for, only to help you realize that you didn’t really mean it.

So, here it was, today was the day: legitimate driving in Alaska. I had waited a whole month to be able to get back here and I was stoked. I had studied online, found out all the paperwork I needed and I was ready. I came in, gave her my forms and identification and proof of residence and she looked at me and said:

“Oh no, you live at the end of The 60 Mile Road, don’t you?”
She recognized me from Winter when we came in for Fire Truck registrations on one of our trips to Town.

“You didn’t bring your passport or birth certificate by any chance?”

No, I had looked online and it asked for Identification. If it had asked for my passport I would have brought my passport. It was sitting in our kitchen drawer, four hours away. The Chief had suggested I call the DMV but I had stubbornly ignored his suggestion. If I hadn’t I would have known that apparently I needed my passport.

She knew we wouldn’t be able to come back until I could catch another ride into town who knows when but there was nothing that could be done. I took the test and passed (it’s an abnormally hard test for some reason so I was glad to make it through) and we placed all of my paperwork in an envelope for me to return with when I could.

Ugh.

Another DMV letdown. Man, I’m really going to have to work to prove to Alaska that I do want to be here, I guess. That’s O.K., I’m in.

Third time’s the charm?

The Chief kept driving from there and about an hour outside of Town we reassessed. He said he’d be fine to just finish it up (it’s like driving to L.A. from Sonoma County,  not a small quest) and so we pulled into Town ahead of schedule and settled in for the night.

The next morning it was pouring down rain.

“Maybe I’ll just drive to the doctor’s office. Anchorage can get hectic in the rain.” The Chief offered. I was relieved. Stop and go traffic in the rain for the first time on a stick I’ve never driven that’s also not ours? No thank you.

We got to the doc’s office and the whole staff gave us confused looks as I entered as the patient instead of The Chief. He had one of the worst cases of sinus infections they had ever seen and so was remembered by the team. The doctor came in, evaluated my tonsils and ears and said:

“The infection doesn’t seem to be spreading. You still have Tonsillitis, despite the burst abscess so that’s why you’re still in so much pain but keep on the antibiotics and call me if you need more.”

And then:

“So, shall we take them out?”

Thank you! Finally, a doc who gets it. Personally, I am not one to jump at surgery (heck, I can barely get myself in for a check-up), but my tonsils scare me. They feel constantly on the brink of infection and this recent abscess on top of infection was enough to make me worry. I don’t want to be in the woods constantly dealing with Tonsillitis.

“Alright let’s schedule you in now.”

Now? Like next week? Oh heck no. I have a show to play tomorrow.

We asked if we could push it…to September and he gave us a look that meant “Sure, but your tonsils will decide”. So we scheduled for September so I could spend the Summer working instead of recovering from surgery (apparently it’s a pretty gnarly surgery for adults) and crossed our fingers that the infection doesn’t spread and my tonsils don’t start going for gold in the Tonsillitis Olympics again.

I left feeling heard, finally.

We had five hours to kill before the Vet which seemed like an eternity. Two errands later and we had 2.5 hours left. Time flies when you’re having fun in Anchorage.

The rain kept coming and first gear started acting up. The Chief kept driving.

Two more errands later and we were at the Vet. Poor Lou was so nervous and in so much pain when they even attempted to look at her lady bits that they had to give her morphine. It didn’t exactly calm her (she’s a dog raised in the woods without laminated flooring or leashes, it’s all unfamiliar to her) but it did deaden her senses enough that as we left she fell over in the car after we made a quick turn. The thud was both sad and hilarious at the same time but there she was, smiling goofily as she slowly picked herself back up. Triumphant T, the Hallucinating Husky.

 

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With a Doped Up Dog and a Surgery Scheduled Sweetie on board The Chief drove us out of Town. We stopped for supplies an hour out and as he grabbed an energy drink he said he didn’t mind just taking the whole drive.

I’d love to pretend that I was a little disappointed but I wasn’t. Learning a new stick on a car I don’t own on big traffic-filled roads with a testy 1st gear in the rain in a rush to get home (as it was now almost 7pm and we were still 7 hours away) sounds 100% like a typical Alaskan learning experience but 100% not what I was up for at that moment. And so, I let go and let him take us home. Thank you.

We got in late but in record time and all in all we had made it out of town which was really all that mattered.

The next day was a flurry of activity getting ready for the fundraiser (though thanks to our friend almost everything was already in place, she’s awesome). I was down at The Restaurant and had just plated the last batch of cookies I’d made to bring up to the fundraiser. I walked outside to go the long way to the ball field instead of scaling the treacherous back way and just as I stepped outside, The Chief rolled up, horn meep meeping.

She lived!

A few months ago The Chief gave away the Honda to a wonderful mechanic friend. I was not excited. I loved that Honda and wanted to get her back to life (I’d never seen her in action), but we didn’t know to fix her and hadn’t had the time and so, in the circle of life things live around here, she was given away to hopefully be resurrected and loved by someone else.

For some reason though, as I said goodbye to her I knew I would see her again.

He pulled up meep meeping the horn and I almost threw the cookies in the air with excitement.

“It’s for you, babe.”

Our mechanic friend had gotten it working but decided he didn’t need it so he had sold it to his brother for $100.00. The brother had brought it to the Kickball game to potentially give it to another friend but when The Chief saw it he immediately ran and got his money. This is for Julia.

I spent the rest of the day smiling at her when I wasn’t riding her and getting bugs in my teeth my grin was so big when I was riding her.

She was a hit with the kiddos too.

 

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At one point someone ran up to her and went to take her off her kickstand and I yelled across the field: “Don’t you just jump on Bluebell! She’s an old lady and deserves respect.”

She had a name. It had just popped out.

Bluebell.

At the end of the fundraiser I rode Bluebell down to the bar and for some reason The Chief suggested I take the key with me. We both looked at one another with our heads cocked as he said it (we don’t have a key to our house and we never lock anything out here. The keys are always inside everyone’s vehicles and there is just trust in the town for it to be so) but I did it anyways.

And it’s a good thing I did.

 

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Sound check.

 

Hours later, after playing music for 2-3 hours and having an awesome night a local ran into the bar and said “Someone just stole your bike!”

Excuse me?

We ran outside and down the trail and sure enough someone had tried to steal Bluebell but when they couldn’t get her started they had thrown her in the bushes. I picked her up and dusted her off as The Chief hightailed it after the invisible thief whom had disappeared into the night.

Thank goodness we had taken the key with us.

That night as I drove Bluebell home (completely un-equipped in my dress and gloveless frozen fingers) I giggled out loud from happiness. I had loved that bike since I first saw her and to have her come back around full circle is what this place is all about. It makes my heart warm.

 

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Her first time back at home. 2am and feeling fine.

 

And so, despite two attempts at the DMV and zero attempts at a stick shift in town, my driving karma has finally taken a turn with Bluebell.

Yesterday morning, I went outside to check on the garden.

 

 

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I was almost to the ramp to indoors when I spotted Bluebell in her parking spot. I couldn’t resist. I fired her up (a process of five separate steps) and flew down the road on a mini joy ride down to the river before we left for the day, slippers and all. I just couldn’t walk past her without jumping on.

And so, Tonsillitis (which seems to be improving everyday) and Town Rampages aside, this weekend was one of the best I’ve spent here so far. I may not know how to drive a stick shift in Town yet and I will still have to make yet another trip to the DMV but I suddenly have the best rig a lady could ask for.

Cheers to resurrections of vehicles who have more lives than cats and cheers to The Chief for buying her twice.

Cheers to Bluebell.

 

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Wish.

A Tale of Two Tonsils (and Ten Years)

Reader beware, you are entering the FYI (For Your Information) possible TMI (Too Much Information) zone, or as my Mom called it: “Gross, gross and gross!”

She cracks me up, but she’s also right on point. It will take a moment to get there but just remember, when the moment comes, I warned you. Read on if you’re up for a good story with a gross ending.

One year ago I did one of the crazier things of my life by packing up my things and accidentally moving to Alaska and into a house with a total stranger (though I felt that I knew him immediately).

Ten years ago was one of the other most noticeably crazy, or shall we call it “free-spirited” things I got myself into:

Italy.

In both scenarios and settings, a prior break-up was involved as well as a great leap of faith. Oh, and tonsils, tonsils were also involved.

Ten years ago. I was newly 19 and had just been dumped by my high school/partial college sweetheart the night before Thanksgiving. As a girl who loves to eat, this put a real damper on the day. I was too depressed to dive in and the food just sat in front of me as a reminder of my loss all night. One of my five Fairy Godmothers, as they call themselves, noticed my devastation and started talking to me about Italy. She was a professor at the local University and was leading a group of students there.

“There’s no better cure to heartache than Italy.”

O.K. I was in, anything to get away from that feeling. I needed direction and I trusted in her, she was a Fairy, after all.

“Perfect! We leave in June. You should probably start taking some language classes and dual enroll in the local University to start getting credits so you will be accepted to go with us.”

June?!

June was 6 months away. I was in pain in that instance. It was time to leave.

Right?

No. I was so near the end of my Fall Semester and despite heartache, or any adversity, I’ve always been stubborn for school (at least since entering college). I would finish the Semester. I needed a focus, so I decided to try for all A’s to help secure my acceptance into the University’s travel abroad program with my Fairy.

I finished the semester and buckled down, working as much as possible to save for Italy.

Finally the next semester came and I was like a horse to stable just trying to get to June. I was accepted into the University program and started taking Art History classes while simultaneously carrying a full load filled with Italian and other General Education classes for my degree at the local Junior College.

That was when I met my beautiful red-headed friend. A girl in my Italian class had said that her friend too was going to Italy in June. In fact, as it turned out, she wasn’t just going to Italy. She was going to Rome. With the University. Chance? Happenstance? I think fate. It was Kismet. She put us in contact.

It was friend love at first sight.

 

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We bring out the weirdo in one another. I love you L.

 

The first day we met we decided to room together in Italy. We purchased tickets for the same flight and probably spoke some cheesy typical Italian phrases as celebration.

Pasta!

Grazie!

Buon giorno!

Yea, my lessons were paying off alright.

That was when I first made a little leap.

For some gut reason, I added two weeks onto my flight at the end of our month-long schooling in Italy. Six weeks instead of four.

“What will you do? Where will you stay?” My red-headed friend’s mother asked me.

“I don’t know. I didn’t plan on this, it just now came from my gut and…I’m doing it.”

It didn’t seem real anyways and I tucked it away to deal with later. I was sure I’d find someone to travel with and if not, I love to be alone. It just seemed right.

A few months later and we were off. School was amazing (though since Rome was also so amazing we rarely slept more than a few hours a night. We probably could have absorbed more information without the late nights but hey, we got the Roman experience. We would trade-off which of us would get to sleep longer and which of us would go order espresso, though I feel like I often ended up with the sweeter end of that deal than not, thanks L) and I saw and learned things I felt I had been destined to see.

 

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…and ate a lot of things I felt I was destined to eat.

 

A psychic before my departure had even said to me (Rome unannounced) that I had a Roman background and had fought in the Colosseum. Who knows, but I do know that the place struck me down in my bones and still everyday I feel a constant pull to return.

After a month I bid “Adieu” and “See you soon” to my fire haired friend (who is still one of my best friend’s to this day) and started traveling with a girlfriend I met in the program.

 

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Rose and I at the train station, about to board the wrong train.

 

Eventually, after a week or so she had to leave as well and I found myself alone in Amsterdam. One morning I got very lost and unbeknownst to me, found myself in the Red Light District. I sat in a window to study my map and get my bearings at which point I realized where I had stumbled. I felt a presence and looked behind me. The window was inhabited by a naked lady dancing. It was 9am.

Oops, sorry! Blocking the show.

At the end of the week I met up with two girlfriends from home who were embarking on a whole semester abroad in Florence. They had a few weeks before school started and we figured we should go to Croatia because, well, we had heard good things and why not?

On the bus/train/bus rides there I decided that I wasn’t going to make my flight back to The States in a few days. I called my Mom and made the bigger leap. If anyone would get it, it was her and so she told me to be safe and let her know when I found myself some plans.

Croatia was amazing and we stayed longer than anyone had planned but eventually school beckoned and I decided to hoof it back to Italy with them to see where it would take me.

Well, it took me to the doctor.

Our trip from Croatia was about 36 hours of straight travel. I had debated staying, had debated taking up the offer from a local to live with him but had declined. I had more to see. The moment we said goodbye and got on the bus the girl in front of me threw up all over herself. It poured onto the floor and back towards me. I was able to pick up my feet in time but the smell was overpowering. Everyone opened their windows in a symphony of shrieks as the girl just sat there with vomit from her mouth to her toes.

Maybe I should have stayed?

The rest of the journey begged that question as well. We didn’t sleep or eat much, just traveled and as the day and a half wore on I felt a sickness brewing in my throat.

The vomit girl!

By the time we reached Florence I was so weak I could barely carry my pack. I said goodbye to my girlfriends as they found their housing and went out in the early morning Florence drizzle to find accommodations of my own. Finally, hours and Carabinieri catcalls later, I found a sweet woman with one bed left in her hostel. I fell into the bed and didn’t wake until dark.

She helped me find a hospital the next day after remarking that I “no look so good”.

Thanks.

The “hospital” that I entered was in fact a church hospital.

 

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It did not look like this, it was a bit more ominous but this was my favorite church I saw and now you can see it too.

 

Nuns speaking very rapid Italian gruffly moved me towards a man in the back. I recited my rehearsed phrases:

“Ho un mal di gola, Signore.”

I have a sore throat, Sir.

He jabbed at my tonsils.

That year I had already had at least three episodes of Tonsilitis (an infection in the tonsils) and three episodes of Strep Throat. I even had a little hint of Mono! It wasn’t the best of times.

The man spoke rapidly in Italian (what other way is there?), some of which I gathered to basically mean “Hold up, buttercup. This is going to hurt”.

Just then, all of my 7th grade Science training came back to me as he produced a Bunsen Burner and a wire mesh screen attached to a small metal pole which altogether resembled a larger version of the mirrors a dentist uses to look at your teeth.

“Whatcha thinkin’ bout doin’ with that, Father?” I nervously translated into something less abbreviated and more respectful.

He gestured for me to open wide (which I couldn’t) and so he forced my mouth open a bit, enough to fit the mesh screen he had been heating (unbeknownst to me) over the Bunsen Burner into my mouth in order to burn my tonsils.

Hold up, did he just cauterise my tonsils?

Still in shock the nurses shuffled me off and lay me facedown in a chair, gesturing for me to expose my toosh a little. I gave them one cheek and before I knew it they were jabbing me with a shot (I’m guessing penicillin but I have no idea) and off I went. I was charged nothing and left with two prescription orders.

I staggered to the pharmacy in a haze, still unsure of what had happened and unsure of what medicine I was about to ingest. I crept back into my bed at the hostel to recover. All said and done I was only 10 euros (and probably some skin on my tonsils) out from the day. Oh European healthcare.

But wait. A Bunsen Burner?! I was too woozy to care and simply hoped his Medieval practices would heal me.

Within a week I was feeling better and I was back to my usual antics of late nights and days of art and history.

 

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and Sexy Pasta.

 

I even found a job on a dare at a local bar when I told the manager that I was going to work there while simultaneously hearing the base rate and asking for a raise. I got it and the next day, in I went. Ah to be very young, headstrong and obnoxious. I’m sure I only retain two out of the three today. The day after I enrolled for language school and found a house to rent. I was set.

Until another week passed and the Tonsillitis came back with a vengeance.

This time I went to the “Emergency Room”, a hollow corridor of an empty ancient building. I literally resulted to “yelling” (more of a loud talking voice in my condition) in order to find anyone to help me. They too charged me nothing but thankfully this time my tonsils were left un-singed and I went home with new antibiotics and fingers crossed.

That time did the trick and the rest of my what ended up being almost a year in Italy instead of 6 weeks was relatively sickness free.

When I returned to The States my tonsils struck again and this time I asked for them to be taken out. At that time (woah, that statement makes me feel old) doctors were hesitant to take tonsils out for fear of them bleeding without stop and because they were and are supposed to be the body’s first line of defense against infection (except some, like mine, harbor that infection instead of process it, leaving me again and again with Tonsilitis. Oh joy).

“Plus”, the doc said “we don’t really have proof that you’ve had all of these incidents, since they occurred abroad.”

Umm, I beg your Physician’s pardon? Call the strange church I went to, or the emptiest Emergency Room that’s ever existed. They will tell you (rapidly in Italian so maybe pull up Google translator. Oh how I wish I would have had that) that my tonsils looked the size of strawberries and were just as red and bumpy.

Proof my patooty. Just look at my BBQed tonsils, that seems proof enough, no?

So I gave up for the time being. The doc wasn’t budging and I certainly didn’t want someone who didn’t have faith in the operation getting near my tonsils anyway. They’d been mistreated enough for that decade.

And you know what? That was very close to true. I never had another problem with my tonsils again.

Until now. Almost one decade later.

**Warning, if you thought anything earlier was gross, you might want to get out now. If not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here we go:

Alaska is currently experiencing its highest pollen count on record. That being said, new to the flora about these parts I have been having some symptoms. The whole town has. Sore throats from pollen abound and a few weeks ago a sickness started to sweep through town.

My sore throat persisted but I felt I had dodged the sickness. No cough, no mucus, just a painful throat. Nothing to write home about (who am I kidding, I still call my Mom when I have even a sore throat, but you know what I mean).

Until one night, talking outside of our house with a friend who was helping us with our truck (our Jack in the Box went on the fritz two weeks ago and we haven’t been able to remedy it since) I felt something shift. The sore throat was suddenly gone but my right tonsil (consistently the worse side, if I remember ten years ago correctly) was swelling and swelling fast. We said goodbye and I immediately did a salt gargle. It hurt. I put myself to bed with get well thoughts in my head.

I awoke to something else.

My right tonsil was even more swollen than the night before and my right ear was throbbing. I felt a familiar feeling but couldn’t quite admit to myself that I might have what I thought I might have. The T word.

 

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My tonsils we pocked and craggy like the clouds in this sky. Except they were the sunset version.

 

I buttoned up and buckled down with my Ibuprofen at my side and off we went to work. The Chief had somehow re-injured his neck earlier in the week as well and so we arrived at work (now in major Go Mode as the restaurant was set to open that week) looking like Frankensteins who couldn’t turn to look at you without turning our whole bodies and one of us who could barely speak.

Sexiest couple of the year award goes to…definitely not us that day. Stiffest maybe.

As the day wore on I felt more and more dragged down. Swallowing became something I tried to avoid and then it happened:

I didn’t want to eat because it was too painful.

My girlfriend later said “I knew you were sick when you weren’t eating. That’s your favorite hobby”.

I know girl, I know.

Being the friend that she is, we made a makeshift tongue depressor and used our flashlights to look down my throat.

“Oh man, can you breathe? Your right tonsil is so swollen it looks like it’s blocking your airway”

I had tried to ignore it but when she mentioned it I couldn’t any longer. No, I couldn’t really breathe well.

I got the You Probably Should Go To The Hospital look from my co-workers and so after 8 hours, I went home to rest.

You see, the funny thing about going to the Hospital is, well, it’s twofold:

  1. Our car just broke down so I have no way to get there and there is at least 4-5 hours away.
  2. I don’t have insurance in Alaska. Apparently, MediCal only covers expenses in California, a tricky loophole I found myself diving into upon realizing I might need aid.

Add to all that the fact that even in the past with health insurance and a Hospital 15 minutes away I still have avoided going to the doctor like the plague so having these challenges just made me shy away from it even more.

The next day I woke up in excruciating pain. I could barely open my mouth and swallowing or drinking was torturous. This was beyond anything I had experienced before. When I spoke it sounded like I had a mouthful of marbles. I decided to head into work with The Chief to see if a co-worker’s husband (The Paramedic) could look and see what he thought.

Hospital.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

I called around and found where I could get care if I could find a ride and just then The Paramedic said “I’m going to town tomorrow. I’m leaving early though. You should come.”

We decided to meet at the 5 mile marker of The Road at 4:30am the next morning. The last time I was up at 4:30am was probably because I was going to bed at 4:30, not rising. I thanked him and left.

I slowly walked the 3.5 miles home (since we are car-less and had driven the fire truck to Town which needed to stay in Town for that night’s training) and arrived home exhausted and in increasing pain. I knew I needed to call about my insurance but I was hurting so much and was so tired that I literally couldn’t.

A nap later and groggy as can be I got through to the Hospital and Clinic and after getting all the information I was thoroughly confused.

I could either go to the Clinic and pay out-of-pocket or go to the Emergency Room and potentially be covered. Key work: potentially. If not, I would end up with a much bigger out of pocket.

Oh health system woes.

I’ve never been much of a gambler, not with my money at least. Big life choices? Sure, roll those dice but not for money.

Overwhelmed and in ever-increasing pain I tearfully called The Chief. “Please have someone else run training tonight. I need you.”

He was home within the hour and I was calmed though not convinced that the insurance situation would be any sort of breeze the next day. A hurricane maybe but not a breeze.

It’s one thing to be sick. It’s another to be sick and to be worried about going to the doctor for fear of financial ruin. It’s a tale that’s often told and yet still persists.

The Chief tried to quiet my worries and made me a smoothie so I could eat something and we cuddled into bed to rest.

Nope.

In the potential 5 hours of sleep we could have gotten I slept a total of maybe 30 minutes. Every time I was about to fall asleep I would have to swallow and the searing pain would wake me up. Or, as I was drifting off my ear would start pulsing from the pressure. The Chief is thankfully a very good sleeper and was able to knock out a few Z’s before his big day ahead of him (opening day at The Restaurant) but we both awoke at 3:30am groggy and in pain.

I “awoke” so puffy I couldn’t even feel my jawbone and touching my neck felt like I was scorching it with fire (or wire mesh heated on a Bunsen Burner). I felt like something was growing and growing in my throat and it became harder to breathe and more awkward and painful to swallow.

The Chief drove me to meet The Paramedic and the Ibuprofen finally started to work a little since I had upped my dose. We were able to talk a bit, get to know one another, that is when I wasn’t drifting off mid-sentence.

Finally, a stop at his Brother-In-Law’s to drop off something and pet his pet donkeys later and we were in Valdez. I smelled the Ocean which I haven’t really smelled since November (and as a coastal kid, I’ve missed it) and it felt like all would be fine.

 

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I forced myself to take a walk along the pier with a girlfriend.

Eventually.

The clinic would take walk-ins from 9-11. We arrived around 9:30 and a friend of The Chief’s who happened to be working that day greeted us. He explained the different avenues I could go and so I checked in with the front desk of the clinic who sent me to the Emergency Room to see my options. Once at the Emergency Room they sent me to Billing. Once in Billing they told me I had to cancel my MediCal because it only works in California.

I hadn’t realized that of course, resident or not, your insurance needs to be where you are. I’m in Alaska more often than not these days and I need to be able to be seen there. So I spent the next hour on the phone cancelling and confirming and watching the clock for the Clinic walk-in time limit so that I wouldn’t miss that opportunity if the Emergency Room still ended up sending me away.

Nothin’ like stress to help the healing process.

Within a few minutes of me explaining my situation ((I have MediCal but through Kaiser so I apparently am in a weird situation that ended up (hopefully) being to my benefit)) the whole office was working on it. I love Alaskans. They are so quick to get in there and help to figure things out. Three ladies were making phone calls and the rest of the office were debating the pros and cons of my visiting the ER versus the clinic.

In the end, since my insurance would only cover the ER we found out, I went in.

I was already exhausted but still needed to be an advocate for myself, ask the right questions and get the help I needed.

My tonsil and ear were throbbing. I cuddled into the crinkly paper and closed my eyes to rest as I waited for the doctor.

When she arrived she asked if I was the friend my friend at the Clinic had mentioned. I immediately felt taken care of and safe.

Knowing that I live in the woods and that any need to change medication (if it didn’t start working in 72 hours and thus was for the wrong strain) would be very difficult she did all the leg work to make sure that medications could be flown out to me.

The whole staff made sure I was O.K. They were wonderful. I left about 4 hours after entering with a prescription and with hope.

I eventually found the pharmacy in town, collected my meds and hit the grocery store just in time to get picked up by The Paramedic after his awards ceremony. We then headed to The Sister Restaurant of The Restaurant to see some good friends, have some marble talk and head home.

5 hours later, we arrived at the opening party of The Restaurant. I was exhausted and in more pain than I thought I could handle but I had watched this place go up over Winter, watched my friends and my Chief work in the below zero cold, and worked with my own hands on it. I was not missing this.

Plus, that’s where my ride was going.

Everyone was so happy as was I but it was hard to show through the stabbing ache. They sent me out food and it took me over an hour to eat a small stuffed pepper. Every bit was agony (but also delicious) and I was starving so I kept on. Finally, I hit my wall and drove myself home.

 

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My tonsils felt about as calm as this swimming spot in the sea at Capri.

 

The next day I awoke not to feeling better but worse. I had started the antibiotics but felt no shift. They said to wait 48-72 hours so I tried to distract myself. All this time we’ve been working day in and day out and suddenly, I was finally home, without plans, where all of the things we’ve neglected due to busyness lived and I couldn’t do any of them.

The next day I awoke, certain I would feel better and for a little while I did. I got in the garden and the dirt in my happy place. I did some chores and then suddenly the pain came back something fierce and I was exhausted. I laid down to nap for a while and suddenly it was 6pm. Time to eat something, woman, no matter how much it hurts.

I made sweet potatoes and mashed them up like one would for a baby and then added some avocado and tomato and lemon. It looked delicious and I’d psyched myself up to deal with the pain in order to finally eat it.

I took one bite and immediately almost threw up.

(You guessed it, the grossest part is NOW).

There was a foul taste in my mouth, dingy and dark and tangy and utterly disgusting.

What is that?!

I smelled everything in the bowl. I couldn’t tell. My sense of smell was screwy. The sweet potatoes had seen better days but nothing seemed wrong with them.

The taste kept coming. I felt like a cat with tape stuck to her feet, I couldn’t get away from it. I was revolted.

I rushed to the sink and threw down the bowl of food I was so desperately excited for and grabbed my toothbrush to scrub and scrub as much as one can in a mouth that won’t really open.

I spit out the toothpaste and suddenly the white turned to brown and red.

I almost started vomiting from the taste. It’s back! That putrid taste. But how? Then, I truly did start to dry heave and the pressure on my throat produced more of the taste and more of the foul liquid.

I realized then that my tonsil had popped or more specifically, that I must have had an abscess on my tonsil and it had popped.

I had read online about abscesses of the tonsils and had asked the doc if that’s what she saw but when she said “no” I let it go, sort of. In my gut I knew this wasn’t just the normal run of Tonsillitis I was used to.

This was it, the abscess was expelling the infection inside of it.

I gagged and cried as it was by far the worst pain of the last few days. It kept coming and I was choking and gasping to get it out while still breathing. Crying only made the pressure worse but I couldn’t help it.

Finally, the waves of expulsion slowed and I knew I needed water. To be in water, specifically. I got in my robe and headed to the shower. Showers heal all when I’m sick. I checked the propane, the battery and the water level.

Good. Good. Bad.

Great.

I went to the generator, fired it up and braced the hose in the water reservoir so I could distract myself by throwing grass seed to build our lawn while the 55 gallon drum filled. Ten minutes later I finally got in the shower.

Sweet relief.

I kept coughing and spitting up bloody brown until the last few minutes of the shower when finally, it stopped.

My ear was no longer throbbing, I could swallow without excruciating pain though I still felt some and my tonsil (though it still felt misshapen) had shrunk.

It was by far the best and the grossest thing that’s ever happened to me medically.

I texted The Chief: “The grossest thing just happened to me. I can’t wait to tell you about it.” I felt like a different person. I was still exhausted and still in some pain but I was drinking water in gulps like a human. I was eating grapes by actually opening my mouth and chewing. It felt like a miracle.

A disgusting putrid miracle.

The Chief returned home and we spent the next hour catching up while I made a paper bouquet for my girlfriend on her birthday, needing to distract myself, afraid that the tonsil would somehow just fill itself up again and my freedom would be taken away.

But so far it hasn’t.

We went to the party, though I was so exhausted from the infection and the day’s events that I only could stay for a short while. In that while I spread the gospel of the disgusting tonsil explosion, thoroughly grossing out the guests as I went. What can I say though? People need to know these things.

So now (if you made it through the gross gauntlet) you know. If you live in the woods and your car breaks down, find a ride and get yourself to town. And if your tonsil suddenly feels like a rectangle instead of a ball, you might have an abscess, actually, a Peritonsillar Abscess, if we are being medically correct. Resist from Googling it, just trust me on this one.

Oh, and the doctor should drain it for you. That’s how that’s supposed to go. But hey, who knew?

Lessons learned.

Cheers to the woods and the sweet small simple world they create and cheers to help getting out of them swiftly when that world gets a little more complicated.

Cheers to you, getaway driver. I owe you one, if we can ever get our car running again.

Cheers to my tonsils, making (I hope) one last-ditch effort to get my attention before quietly calming themselves forever.

Cheers to leaps of faith, even if they get us into a little trouble here and there.

And cheers to you if you made it through this nastiness. You’re a toughie, you.

Love,

Beneath The Borealis.

 

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Nature’s ombre. She’s so fashionable.

 

 

An Independence Pendulum and a Lady Lynx Meet in the Woods…

My state of independence is a pendulum, often landing in the farthest reaches of either extreme.

I’m trying to quiet the extremes and focus on circling the middle, the compromise in between. Which is why I know that when my gut tells me to do something but my pendulum of independence is starting to sway towards staying in the safe zone that it’s time to push myself.

To others, it may sound trite, even a bit pathetic. I’m o.k. with that. There are things for all of us that come easily that for others are mountains they continuously attempt to climb. Independence is my mountain and extremes are my unexpected avalanches in the mountains. I’ve done a lot of independent things in my life, but I’ve also forgotten myself too, forgotten to trust my gut or to get out of comfort for the sake of expansion or been overly independent just to prove I can despite the damage it may cause. Independence is my mountain.

So, when we came back from Anchorage last time, having not had time for much supply gathering at all (supplies which will ideally last us for the Summer, not just a month or two since both of us will hopefully be working so much that a run to Anchorage will be unlikely, if not impossible and we will have to rely upon the garden, the expensive Summer store and the kindness of others coming in for re-supplies) and planned that on our return trip for The Chief’s post-operation check up we would do all of our errands in one day since we no longer had to come in a day early to drop off the truck for service. Well, I started thinking. One day for everything?

The independence pendulum awoke.

When we were first arriving, about to touch down in Anchorage for the first time together in December we were fleshing out our town plans. The Chief was trying to explain how to strategize, how we had to watch the weather if we bought anything that couldn’t freeze. How we would have to pack and re-pack the truck over and over again and how we would store vegetables versus frozens, etc. etc. It was a lot to take in. “It’s hard to explain, people always have a hard time understanding it”.  I was offended. People? Maybe. Me? Not a chance.

Wrong (though still offended).

I still kept trying to buy perishables, still forgot we would have to unload our haul into the hotel before ending our day lest the weather shift to below freezing. I didn’t quite get it yet, didn’t have my rhythm. I needed The Chief and it bothered me. I wanted to do it all on my own.

Wrong again.

What I really wanted was to feel that I could do it all on my own. A town run with the man of your dreams is way better than going it completely solo, duh. Even if you do both get grumpy at times.

However, there is an independence pendulum compromise: time alone in town. A town run with your partner tends to involve mutual errands. Time alone means time for personal errands. It feels extravagant.

When we got home, well, I got to thinking that we were cutting our town time awfully close. We would leave on a Thursday (get in Thursday night), have a doctor’s appointment and errands all day Friday and leave for home early Saturday. Essentially, we would have one day in town. One day to get all of our supplies and materials for the Summer.

Add to that my wish to pick up some Summer clothing.

You see, my plan when we left in December was to return to California at some point in the Spring in order to cuddle my Mama, hug my friends, greet the Ocean and collect my Summer clothes.

That did not happen. Tickets to California were consistently over $600 and with additional travel costs it just didn’t pan out financially.

So, I was in the woods, with Winter clothes to get me through the Summer. It was less than ideal.

I started scheming. A plan started forming in my heard. We had a car to drive and plenty of friends headed out the same day we had planned to leave. But what if I just left a day earlier? I could get to Anchorage and do all the personal shopping I would have race through if we only had one day. I could wander through a clothing store without a strict agenda, browse if you will. I could stop at a spice shop or purchase some yarn. Pure luxury! Time wouldn’t be of the essence every second of the day and maybe I could even get a few things for the house that we never have the time to collect when we are pressed for time and sanity in town.

I talked to a girlfriend about my blossoming idea. “Oh yea, I love solo town time. You should totally do it”.

The opposite side of independence pendulum kicked in. What about The Chief? He had just had surgery. He needed me, right?

I brought it up to him. “Go for it, babe. That’s probably a really smart idea”.

I was a little miffed. Huh, I guess he doesn’t realize how much he needs me. I mean, what if he has to pump water? He’s not supposed to lift anything. I should probably stay.

I rolled around with the idea but felt that it had come from my gut and therefore, it was a challenge to myself to get out of my comfort zone. I was trying to suppress it but it’s voice just got louder and louder. The Chief would be fine and the fact that I was reticent to take the trip at all meant all the more to me that I indeed needed to do it, not just for necessity, I could find clothes or make something, but to challenge my independence.

I’d made the trip in the Summer completely solo, Costco and all. I even had to finagle ratchet straps to fit a vehicle that didn’t take the straps and tetris-ed the hell out of the car so that it was loaded to the brim. Of course I could go solo, it was simply that I had become accustomed to going with The Chief. To our rhythm, to our process. And honestly, to being more of a passenger and less of a driver. At least in winter. As the Spring sprung and The Chief’s sinuses were constantly being bombarded with surgeries and appointments, I became more of a driver, both literally and figuratively. We figured out our plans together, debated on the best routes and errands line-ups and packing methods. I was involved. This was just another step.

So I did it. I left a day early and thank goodness I did. One, because I got to leisurely peruse a few stores and then together we were able to collect all the Summer supplies and two because on the way out I got to see her.

The Lynx.

The week before, The Chief and I had seen a Lynx, just the tail end of her, fuzzy paws jumping through the brush.

 

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She looked like this…minus most of the snow

 

As I departed a week later, listening to an audiobook and finding my own road trip rhythm again, I suddenly thought of The Lynx. I was almost exactly half-way down the 60 mile pothole riddled dirt road and suddenly, the thought of her hit me like a slap in the face.

I unintentionally slowed down and as I did, there she was.

 

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She jumped into the woods on the driver’s side. I scanned her entrance point to see if I could catch a glimpse as she ran away but I didn’t have to watch her tail end this time. This time she stopped and turned towards me. We watched one another for five minutes. Her silent, me awkwardly complimenting her enormous fuzzy feet and pointed ears. I felt like a bumbling suitor asking out my first date. “Wanna, er, umm, maybe wanna go, umm, like, see like a movie, or no? Or yea?”

 

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Seriously, look at the head to foot comparison. Those things are adorably massive.

 

She gave me one last look and then as soon as our gaze was broken, she became invisible. Completely dissolved into the woods. I felt like I had been in a time warp or an alternate universe, she’d opened a little wormhole and invited me in and clumsily I had accepted, commenting on the drapes or the furniture as we went along.

I continued on my journey, feeling a bit in an honored haze.

 

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Mountains and glaciers and raindrops, oh my!

 

Hours later, when I finally reached (almost) Anchorage and had stopped for my first non-Chief stop (a craft store! Be still my heart) I called a girlfriend I had been missing and we finally got to connect. I told her of Lady Lynx and she immediately looked up the significance of the animal (I love her. Not in a million years would I have remembered to do that. Thank goodness for West County).

The Lynx tells us to listen to our hearts and to trust our instincts. Seeing one is a reminder that we are always expanding, even if it sometimes feels foreign or scary.

Boom!

O.k. okay, I can hear a few grumblings. What’s that woo-woo mumbo jumbo I hear? And I get it, but for one, I grew up in a town where hearing someone comment on another’s aura was commonplace and two, I think there’s always room to look past the obvious and search for a deeper meaning, even if in a sense, it’s self-created. Read a horoscope and have a revelation or perhaps just look at the day a little differently? Good. Nothing is harmed in seeing significance where another might just see a big ‘ol cat and you know what? Neither is correct, neither is wrong. But to me, the magic was just what I needed. She helped me to see the big sky instead of the little road.

 

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The symbolism of the Lynx followed me throughout my town time, all the way to leaving. You see, the night before, we had thought it a great idea to stay up late, eat at a late night diner and head out for a huge trip home the next day. Genius, right? We went to bed with grumbling tummies, cuddled up to try to take away the other’s aches.

It didn’t work.

We both awoke with food poisoning-esque symptoms (fun, huh?). It was a toss-up. Who wants to drive the first stretch? The first stretch means town traffic, errands and winding mountain passes. The second means two stops, the later stretch of a long day and…The Road.

Oh, did I mention that we were also hauling the largest load I’d ever taken? First, the truck itself is an F-350 which I barely fit in followed by two barrels of gasoline (110 gallons plus the two tanks on the truck), about 2,000 feet of fire hose donated to The Chief for the Fire Department and all of our shopping loads plus a friend’s shopping load, a generator and all of our bags. Needless to say, thank goodness the ratchet straps fit on this load. We were packed to the brim. Sideview mirrors only.

I crossed my fingers to get the first half while I simultaneously crossed them for the second since at the moment I felt about ready to vomit at the drop of a hat and I don’t ever vomit, unless I have food poisoning.

The Chief took the first leg of the trip to the Fire Department and we decided we would choose halfs there. We stopped and ogled their shiny new equipment. I turned down coffee and donuts which is a testament to the food poisoning because I’ve never willingly turned down a donut. It was rough. Finally we departed and met up with our girlfriend whom was joining us for the ride. We each did our last perishables run at Fred Meyer, switching out who was watching the truck (while trying not to get blown away by the wind) with who was grocery shopping. We filled our gas drums for what seemed like eternity in the whipping winds that made the mountains hard to see and that almost flung The Chief off the top of the truck as he pumped the gas.

A dramatic start but it was smooth sailing after that.

There’s a time in an 8 hour journey when you switch drivers and then a time right after that (if you haven’t switched) that you decide to just do the whole route solo. We were nearing that crossroads, I could feel it. I was still nauseous and starting to feel the weight of my eyelids when The Chief asked if I was ready to drive. I felt nervous, so I knew it was time.

“Yep!” I answered, trying to convince myself through a peppy response that this was gonna be fun!

Switch we did and after I had created a booster seat out of a loaf of french bread and some Fred Meyer bags we were off. It wasn’t so bad. It was still hard to simultaneously reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel (I’m not sure why I thought I might have grown since last week but I did) but the load wasn’t all that noticeable. It felt good to drive such a burly haul of our supplies in for the Summer and the bringing in of a friend made it feel even more like a journey home. I even sent my older brother a picture. Look at me! (I’ll probably never stop wanting to hear “Wow, good job Sis!” What can I say? I’m a little sis).

Then, we stopped for gas right outside of the rock parting that begins The Road.

“Is there anything I should know about driving this size load on The Road?” I asked The Chief, half hoping he would offer to drive it and half hoping I would have the strength to say no.

He did and so did I. And so, he gave me some pointers:

Slow down way before you need to (oh, great, so hopefully something doesn’t jump out in front of us)

and

Avoid the potholes.

I thought he was going to laugh after the latter comment (the potholes are essentially unavoidable) but he was trying to drive home the importance of keeping a vigilant eye for the big potholes, the ones that could pop a tire (or worse). The gravity of the load weighed on me a bit, which again meant I was doing something I was scared of. Hopefully I would grow from it.

I jumped in the truck and ate poor excuses for the earlier dismissed donuts for sugar courage (we had stopped for coffee again after I had spilled most of my cup on myself after taking the wheel. Nothing quite like that to inspire confidence. The store didn’t have coffee and so, in true Alaska fashion, they brewed me a whole pot). In the cab, munching away, I looked to my girlfriend whom after days in the Lower 48 and waiting for rides in Alaska was probably über ready to get home. “I’m new to driving such a big load, but I’ll go as fast as I can”. Before I could finish my sentence she looked at me calmly and said “You drive exactly how you will feel comfortable. Nothing more”. Yea, I knew I liked her.

The Road took over 3 hours. The potholes were plentiful as were the hidden bumps in the road. I hit a few and missed a few and got away with a truck and load intact. We stopped twice and turned around once to have a beer and catch up with friends we passed on The Road. A few miles from our turn off we dropped off our girlfriend. As we started undoing the load to get to her stuff she came tearing around the corner backwards on a 4-wheeler. Totally badass. She thanked us and shooed us off, she could secure her load herself she said and off we went the last few miles to home.

Down the driveway as we started hitting mud and muck again I worried that we needed the 4-wheel drive. But no sooner than I thought that, I felt the tires hit the tracks of trucks before us and as if drawn in through magnets we shimmied our way through the narrow drive all the way home.

“You got us all the way home in this big ‘ol truck. Nice work, babe” The Chief congratulated me.

I was proud. Proud that I had challenged myself, proud that I had gotten us home and proud to be with someone who pushes me towards my challenges and supports me through them instead of sheltering me from them or taking them on for me.

My challenges may not be yours. They may seem petty or downright ridiculous. Hey, maybe yours would to me too but that would be both of us missing the point. We should serve as a Lynx instead, reminding one another of the strength we all have within to meet our challenges, big and small, head on. We should be my girlfriends, encouraging one another to go for it and at our own pace.

Living out here has put me in a place where I can choose to challenge myself and to boost my independence or to lean on The Chief and sit back while he drives. We all can do it everywhere but I think I personally needed this place, a place where new challenges are so plentiful and so unique on the daily that not taking them would be a life un-lived and a place un-participated in. I would be missing the point but I neede a dramatic place to help me see that.

And so I try to meet my challenges head on. I try to say “yes” to a driving lesson, even if I’m not totally up for it or “yes” to snowmachining across a frozen river because challenges don’t typically come when we are wearing our battle gear, they come when we are in pajamas with tangled hair and sleepy eyes. But sometimes, that’s battle gear enough.

Cheers to the pendulum of independence, to the scary, to the self-expansion and to the challenges.

May we meet them head on…ideally, with helmets.

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Anchor(age)s Away!

Oops, we did it again.

Off to Anchorage for another sinus surgery. Last time we were caught off guard and saddled with hotel bills and food costs we weren’t prepared for. But this time? This time we knew the drill:

Prep the House to Leave for five days (see last week’s post about the serious Spring Cleaning effort that has only just begun). Clean, prep firewood, unplug everything from the battery stash except the fridge (we got a mini fridge!), turn off the propane, water the plants…in general, shut her down.

Secure Places for the Dogs to Stay (we were pup-sitting our nephew dog still). Bring over their beds and foods and bowls (these dogs know the drill better than us. Before we had even hinted to Lou that we were taking her to the neighbors’ house she was already over there the morning we were leaving, getting used to her new digs). Thankfully, in a town full of dog lovers, pup places aren’t too hard to find, especially when they are such good watchdogs.

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All four corners covered.

Head into town the day before the pre-op appointment and settle into our hotel.

Pre-Op Appointment day followed by errands.

Operation Day: Head into surgery with The Chief until they roll him off. Pick up medications and any last-minute comforts during The Chief’s surgery. Take him back to the hotel to rest and recover and then head out for more errands like laundry and Costco, etc.

Required Recovery Day. The hospital asked that we stay in town as long as possible in order to tell if any complications were going to arise. The most they could buckle The Chief down for was one day. More errands.

Last but not Least (Most Important, in Fact): Leave: spend the day driving home, doing last-minute grocery shopping and pick-ups for friends and then home to the pups and the cabin.

Easy-peasy!

Right?

I say this every time but still I am like Dory from “Finding Nemo”- I forget constantly that planning in Alaska is like swimming upriver with a weighted vest. It’s doable but not that enjoyable and in the end it makes more sense to ride the tide.

But I didn’t. We knew the drill but this is how the drill actually played out:

To start:

Alaska has some pretty amazing health coverage, especially when you happen to fall into the Denali Care bracket. Since many people in the state (like us) live in The Bush, getting into town for a surgery or doctor’s appointment can be a real financial hardship. The last town trip for us was a seriously unexpected depletion of funds. It was like our pockets and pocketbooks developed holes in them.

So this time, since we knew we were heading in, we were able to get coverage from Denali Care. They would take care of the hotel (something that could have been covered last time had we known we would have to stay) as long as it was Medicaid approved and they would provide a meal stipend.

This was some seriously good news. So, we set about finding a hotel. Easy, right?

Geez.

Wrong again.

We didn’t realize that the Native Youth Olympics were taking place and everywhere we called was booked. Finally we found a hotel that said they took Medicaid. We checked and re-checked with them. Are you sure? It would be a real bummer to drive 8 hours and be turned away. They agreed. It would.

It was.

After traveling the 60 mile dirt road (which takes hours to complete and is riddled with signs suggesting you don’t travel it and if you do to pack survival gear and let people know you are leaving. A little ominous, eh?) in a huge truck which seemed to hit even more bumps that were even on the road, pothole after pothole after pothole followed by more potholes, we were happy to hit the pavement for the next 6 hours. We showed up around 7:30pm, tired from the trip and both starting to feel a cold coming on but excited by the nice hotel (pools, dogs allowed! Next stay they were coming with) and great location, only to be told that they in fact did not take Medicaid and that someone (someone who had checked and doubled checked) had been wrong.

O.K.

They were able to send us to a sister hotel which I ended up being even more pleased about because it was right next to Natural Pantry (think Whole Foods) and the movie theater. I squealed with delight! Score! Now we can eat healthy food and get supplements to stave off this cold.

Wait.

They only had room for us for one night. And, they didn’t have food for us. We would have to go across town to see if we could be served and by now it was already 9pm. Tired and hungry we decided to forgo finding food and ordered in while we spent the whole night calling other hotels, hoping for something to be available which took Medicaid. The next day was the Pre-op appointment and the following day was surgery. I wanted The Chief to be settled and cozy before going under again, not up in the air and stressed.

Finally we found a local Medicaid help center that gave us a list of hotels to call. They suggested one that people “really like” which turned out to have space. Alrighty, things are starting to get better.

Right?

The next day (starting to feel even more sick than the day before) before the Pre-op we went to check out of the second hotel only to find that they needed to keep our Medicaid original voucher for their paperwork.

We needed the original voucher for our next hotel.

Luckily, at the Pre-op appointment they were able to create a new “original” for us. Alright, back on track. We went to the doctor, talked to the surgeon and the nurses and got our heads in the game for surgery. The surgeon told us that we would need to come back for screenings 2-3 times per year but that if we suddenly were dropped from Medicaid or weren’t able to pay that he would make sure we were still seen. Things were looking up.

We arrived at our third hotel in two days (both coughing and sneezing and incessantly blowing our noses) only to be greeted by a seedy scene. Seedy bars? Yes, please. I love dive bars. Seedy places to sleep? Not my favorite. Seedy places to recover from surgery? Not my first choice for my love. Things were looking down again.

We checked in with a front desk agent who was simultaneously talking on two phones, training an employee and checking us in while checking another guest out. Hectic doesn’t quite meet the feeling head on. We carried our luggage up the concrete stairs (a bit of a danger for a groggy post-op Chief tomorrow, I thought) since there was no elevator and keyed into our room.

You know when you enter a room and immediately get a bad feeling? Yup. Me too.

It was dingy and dark and right against 5th avenue. Big hauling trucks flew by. It was loud to say the least. The bed was stiff and scratchy and I immediately felt my skin start to crawl. I’ve stayed in seedy motels by myself on long road trips just to save money but I had been prepared for it (see: brought a blanket and pillow from home). We had walked straight into this one. It had been recommended. I wouldn’t have recommended it if I was paid to do so.

The Chief is a trooper and settled in to just deal with it. I, on the other hand, was not having it. This was not a place to relax and heal. This was a place to throw down one’s bags and leave for all other time but for sleep. I swear, I’m not a prissypants. This place just had bad ju-ju and dirty feelings all around it. I started making calls. We didn’t know if the day had already been recorded with Medicaid in which case we would have to spend money for a new hotel (and also go back again to the doctor’s office and ask for yet another voucher) but at that point I didn’t care. This was not the place we were staying.

Finally, we found a place. The place we had stayed last time. The place we probably should have just called all along.

We checked out of the Seedy McSeedface (name inspired by Boaty McBoatface) motel (Medicaid thankfully hadn’t gone through yet) and repacked the truck for the sixth time and headed over to the new hotel. They had a restaurant on site so we could finally use some of our meal vouchers (all of the others were off site so I would have to drive to them for breakfast and lunch and after days of errands, feeling awful and caring for a sick post-surgery partner, convenience was key) and I knew the area well after spending an unexpected week in the area last month.

Ahhhhh, a sigh of relief. We still needed to book a hotel for the Post-op appointment a week later so we booked ourselves a room there. No more risks. No more trials. Finally, we were settled.

It was already late in the day, around 5pm at this point. We had done some errands earlier in the day but after waking up über early the last few days and losing sleep and stamina from all of the jostling about and sneaking in sicknesses neither of us were feeling well enough for much more than a movie. We settled in for the night and got ready for surgery the next day.

We awoke at 6am to get to the surgery center before 7:30. Surgery was scheduled to start at 9am. Finally by 10am, after waiting for 2.5  hours in his gown, The Chief was rolled into surgery. I went off to start getting any last odds and ends he might need. Tissues and distilled water for sinus flushes, yogurt and of course, medications. But, surprise! The nurses assured me that they could make that easier. They would have the prescriptions brought over to surgery. Amazing! Too good to be true?

Yup.

They faxed over the prescriptions the doctor had given me.

One was misspelled and had to be re-sent.

They came and gathered the originals and got new ones.

Then they faxed those and returned the scripts to me for safekeeping.

I left.

They called.

The fax didn’t go through.

I drove back.

Parked the huge truck yet again. Ran back to the building again. They faxed them again. I left. Again.

No sooner had I driven all the way back to the hotel and made about ten trips from the parking lot to the room to take all of the contents out of the truck (think 30 lbs. of laundry and bags of ammo and other heavy errand items) in order to make plenty of room for a groggy Chief to puddle into when I got a call from the surgery center. The meds were there but they needed the original prescriptions to be shown in order to collect them. Could I pop in (why hadn’t they just kept them there?)? The Chief was still in surgery but they needed me to come by now. I had more errands to run before getting him but they said I needed to be there so I left.

I told them I was on my way, maybe 15 minutes out. About 5 minutes before I arrived they called to say that instead I needed to just go to the pharmacy because they had left with the meds instead of waiting.

I get it. They are busy. But I could have just picked these up at Walgreens anytime.

This was supposed to be the easier route. I should have known. Planning. Dory brain.

O.k. so now I need to park at the pharmacy. The local University is having a game or a show or a something that is borrowing all of the parking at the pharmacy except for one lot. Cars are circling like vultures around a carcass. There’s no humanity here. I circle and circle and circle. Like a doodler on the phone. 30 minutes later and just as I am about to say “screw it” and park illegally (because the surgery department has called 10 minutes prior and said that The Chief is out of surgery and asking for you) and a spot opens up. I hurriedly run inside and collect the prescriptions (I’ve already paid the $1.oo co-pay over the phone. $1.00!). I run back outside only to see a lot full of open parking spaces.

What in the…?

It doesn’t matter, it’s time to speed off back to the surgery center and pick up my love. The surgeon comes by, happy with his work and with The Chief’s progress. All of the nurses comment on how tough he is and that he hasn’t agreed to or asked for any pain meds yet (but giving me the look like “you need to convince him to take some or he’s going to be in a world of pain in a few minutes, thank you”. I mean, he did just have his face drilled into, again). About thirty minutes later (twenty more than I was supposed to park in the Surgery Pick-Up lane, whoops!) The Chief climbs into the truck and off we go.

Recovery time.

For both of us.

My cold has turned into a full-blown yuck-fest and both The Chief and I are down for the count. I am able to take care of him but not like I would like to. We both rest in bed as yet another day of errands goes to waste.

The next day The Chief is up and at ’em (as much as one can be and probably more than one should be post-surgery) and I am down and out, feverish and exhausted. The minimum amount of errands that must be done before we leave the next day are laundry and washing the truck. The truck is going in for service and clothes, well, it’s good to have clean ones to wear. Finally, I work up the energy and (after almost leaving without half of the laundry due to having Foggy Cold Head Syndrome) head to the laundromat nearby that I’ve found online.

I arrive to a vacant lot.

Oh. Apparently it no longer exists.

I find a self car wash (since the truck likely won’t fit through an automated one and I don’t want to be the one to test it out. Plus, after hauling garbage for last week’s clean-up, it needs some TLC, or at least some hands-on soap).

I promptly spray myself in the face with the soap hose. Off to a good start.

People start lining up behind me and then just as quickly, as if I have a sign that says “Seriously, I am moving at turtle pace today. Please, please, pick another lane.” they move to another stall to wait. In between blowing my nose and sneezing triplets the truck is finally clean enough and off I go to find a laundromat.

Laundromat found.

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My co-pilot mountain of washables almost took over the entire cab

Washers-a-plenty and…not enough quarters and no cash.

Ugh.

I put in as many loads as I can and stumble out into the city to find cash-back somewhere. I look a mess. Watering eyes and a red puffy snotty nose. A vision of sickness in motion, if you will.

Finally, I’m stocked up on quarters like a slot winner in Vegas and a few hours and seventy tissues later, the laundry is done. Thankfully, I got in there before the crowd hit. Who knew that laundry was a popular Friday night activity?

“Not I”, said the fly.

Beyond ready to get back to the hotel and into bed I remember a birthday present that I have yet to get The Chief. It took me three phone calls and some fancy footwork to track down. I am not missing this opportunity. I park at the hotel and walk (see:hobble) to the nearby store that has just what I am looking for. 30 minutes later and I’m back at the hotel ordering dinner that I will later walk (see: crawl) down from our room and pick-up. Almost done for the day.

A few minutes later, an angel of a friend comes by offering to let us borrow his car so we can drop the truck off the next day instead of next week when we come in for the Post-op appointment. This means we can spend one extra day at home with the dogs (and one extra day that we don’t have to find them puppy-sitters) before turning around again for the appointment. And, it means a much smoother ride over the pothole laden 60 miles of dirt and rock which, for someone just out of surgery, is a big deal. We are so grateful.

I realize that we will need a permit for the car so I call the front desk and let them know we have another car to add to the permitted cars with us.

You need to come down.

I almost cry.

I am so tired. My face feels like it’s in a vice. I am sweating and shivering all at once.

O.k. I’m coming right now.

Great, I’ll have the paperwork all ready for you.

I make my way down.

No one.

Not a soul is around. My fever is up again and simply standing upright is a chore I’m not sure I can check off the list for much longer. I head outside to sit and wait.

Finally, someone arrives. I explain again what’s happening and finally get the new permits, head to the parking lot and place the permits in both cars, keycard back into the building and finally, finally get into bed. It’s 10pm and I am pooped.

The next day is departure day. The Chief, not having felt much pain the last two days is suddenly in pain (probably because although he isn’t supposed to lift anything he is helping me to load the car and move over laundry etc. from the truck to the borrowed car). He is a trooper. We head to drop off the truck at the mechanic’s and find that despite it being a Saturday, he is in. He lived in our town back when it was even more like The Wild West and has stories for days. We both are starving and tired already with grocery shopping and an 8 hour drive ahead of us but hearing someone with such nostalgia for the place we love keeps us for an hour before we have to excuse ourselves lest it be nightfall before we leave town.

Finally, we leave. I shop on our way out, a few groceries and odds and ends that end up taking an hour to complete, get gas and we are off.

The signs of home start to come. The mountains. The rivers. The lakes. Your favorite turn-outs or vistas. The glaciers. The gas station with the familiar faces welcoming us back from the big city. The 60 mile road. Our turn-off and finally, our puppies. We stop at the neighbors’ house to collect them and despite being exhausted and sick, it is so good to catch up with the ones we love, both furry and human.

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It must be rainy season. Miss Lou’s coat, looking like a porcupine.

A little while later and we are finally home to a cold but cozy cabin. The Chief builds a fire as I bring in our haul from town, load after load, wading though the muddy muck outside that weeks ago was feet of snow. Spring is here and so is the rain and with it the muddy season. But, thanks to being in town, we now both have rain coats to shoulder the season.

Unpacking finished and groceries settled away and it is finally time to rest in our own house, in our own bed, under our own sheets with two furry family members downstairs to greet us in the morning.

The next town trip looms in the future but for now, we are tucked into the woods, warmed by a fireplace, surrounded by mountains, blanketed by rivers and rocked to sleep by raindrops.

Oh home, how I have missed you.

The Three Amigos Leave Anchorage (The Final Installment)

Monday morning: surgery time.

Surgery is amazing. They put you under, do their thing (or thang, if you prefer), wake you up and send you away. Maybe call you again or see you again for a check-up and boom! You’re better.

That’s the ideal. And don’t get me wrong, the surgery went great and I am so grateful that we have made scientific advancements enough for it to have been an option for us…but I really don’t like surgery.

Watching your person go under and then just waiting, not knowing what is happening to them, is something I’ve done twice before (with my Mama) and something I hope not to do again. It’s a powerless feeling. I don’t know these people. They don’t know that they are operating not on a person but on my world.

Are your scalpels sharpened? Did you have just enough coffee this morning? Did you wash your hands correctly? Remember to remove all your tools from his sinuses? What if he wakes up in the middle of it? Is he warm enough?

This is my person.

I know nothing about what it is to be a doctor, but I do know that human error, no matter the field, exists. That thought plagued me for the next few hours.

This little worry-wort had planned to wait in the lobby and pace like a caged big cat for the next few hours until the nurses promised they would call me about anything and everything and basically shoved me out the door.

Fine.

So I headed outside only to remember that leaving held with it a whole other slew of worries.

You see, we never planned on The Chief becoming incapacitated and me having to drive.

“Drive?” You ask.

“What’s wrong with driving? You’re an excellent driver!”

Why thank you (and I couldn’t agree more). The thing is (again) I’m from California. I’ve been to The Snow (as in Lake Tahoe) but I’ve never driven in it. Anytime I’ve ever had the option to drive it I’ve always been with more seasoned snow-drivers and so they’ve taken the wheel. In retrospect, I wish I would have been more adamant about learning then because now I was faced with the icy streets of Anchorage.

But hey, The Chief gave me some pointers and we have 4-wheel drive and the streets aren’t that bad. Basically it’s like having training wheels for snow driving, double training wheels even.

I’ve got this.

Oh yea, I forgot to add that the vehicle I’m driving is (to put it correctly) a big ‘ol truck. I have to jump a little to get in and, to make me feel really grown up and in control, I have to take all the books we just bought and put them under my buns and all the jackets in the truck and  put them behind my back in order to see over the steering wheel and reach the pedals.

Yup. I’m an adult. With a booster seat.

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Ok, I’ve still got this under control.

Now, let’s get real. First thing is first: pancakes. I love pancakes more than anyone I’ve ever met (and if I ever meet someone who loves them as much as me or more I can’t wait, because we are going to be best friends) and in times like these, the only thing that is going to make me feel better are:

a. a call to my Mama

b. pancakes. a full stack.

Lucky for me, The Chief had suggested Middle Way Cafe as a place to get soup for him for post-op and from the moment I walked in, my little hippie tummy knew we would be in good hands.

A stack of multi-grain blueberry pancakes, soup to go and a call to the Mom later and I was almost able to forget to worry. Almost.

I went to the pharmacy to get the rest of The Chief’s meds. They didn’t have them. I started off for another just as the hospital called.

He’s ready.

I rushed to the second pharmacy and grabbed the remaining supplies and raced back.

They had told me before the surgery that I would be able to see him immediately in recovery. I got there only to be told I’d have to wait a bit. Good thing I rushed.

Resume prior plan of big cat pacing. Panther pacing, that rings right.

But again, my mind was taken away as I opened an email with a link to my hometown newspaper. I clicked and my jaw dropped as I saw my girlfriend’s house (a place she was gracious enough to share with me when my ex and I broke up and I had nowhere to move) bisected by a redwood tree (it turns out there was actually more than one).

It made me want to gather all of my people under one roof. Could everyone I love just be safe and sound, please? I tried to reach her but couldn’t and so I called a friend of ours to see what had happened and what I could do but in the middle of our call the front desk lady came to me – I was finally allowed to see The Chief.

My love was groggy and a bit bloodied but doing amazingly well. I received a myriad of instructions, do’s and don’ts and definitely don’ts and before I knew it we were out the door and headed back to the homestead (our hotel).

There’s nothing quite like being able to take care of someone when they need you. Making soup from scratch. Warms cloths on their forehead. Getting their cozy jammies ready, tucking them into fresh sheets and putting on a movie.

Being in a hotel room was not like that.

I heated the restaurant made soup in the microwave, fluffed the foreign to us pillows and tucked in my babe without cozies. Nothing was on TV (is there ever anything on?). I took a a trip for supplies and dinner…

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Taking in the sights of a supplies walk. Melting ice sculptures from a competition downtown.

After which I was able to upgrade us a little bit with the help of an HDMI cable and new pajamas, though we couldn’t get the HDMI working until  11pm, and with me running back and forth between the laundry every thirty minutes and Iditarod partiers hooping and  hollering, it wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered. But, trooper that he is, The Chief rolled with it well.

With massive amounts of laundry done the only things left to do were collect the remainder of The Chief’s meds (a misprinted prescription sent us into an insurance whirlwind but with a lot of help it all worked out) and grocery shop.

No biggie, right?

{Begin ominous soundtrack}

Our third amigo came with me to Costco so I wouldn’t have to pack and unpack alone, but in Costco it’s every man for his own shopping list (and since we hadn’t been to Town since December our list was as long as I am tall). There are two sides to Costco: booze and food. In your planning, you decide which is first depending on how you are packing your rig (which after two days of driving, I was feeling much more confident in…but still short). Booze first? In our case, yes. We would fill up the many side compartments of the truck and leave the bed for food.

Well, about $500 later we went back out to the truck and started loading the first round. Thirty minutes later we were back at the Costco doors.

Shopping for food for the next few months alone is a mental exercise in restraint, splurging and balancing. You see, you always return home wishing you would have bought that thing you debated on (yes, you really do want those olives). But the thing is, when your person is with you, you have a little sounding board, your decisions come easier and (at least at the time) feel valid. Alone, it’s a whole different ballgame. But this time I decided to go in armored up with the intention of leaving with truly everything we needed, even if I was going to have a minor heart episode at check out. I took off my jacket to prepare for the warm indoors and set it in reaching distance for when I got to the dairy aisle. I was ready.

About an hour and 20,000 decisions later (how much do I need this to be organic? $5 extra much? Do we have mayo?  I swear we did…Toilet paper! Almost forgot) we were in line (I had two shopping carts). For some reason, all the people in the store with 5 items or less started lining up behind me. I was in a daze and didn’t realize they were there  until the checker started calling them all ahead of me.

Ten minutes later, it was finally my turn.

Check out time.

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Baskets and baskets and baskets…

The bagger/boxer cracker her knuckles, took a deep breath and jumped right in. We had a game plan. Perishables together, non-perishables together. Box ’em up, box ’em out. Another ten minutes and ten banana boxes full and we were out of there. People were staring.
“Having a party this weekend, little lady?!”

You better believe it. At this point I’m feeling so close to being home that every moment is a celebration.

Thirty minutes later and the game of packing Tetris complete we finally leave Costco $1100 poorer but smiling all the way.

We return to The Chief and it starts…that sinking feeling you get when you feel a little sickness coming on.

Stage 1: Denial

Stage 2: Raid the medicine cabinet (or in our case, take your multivitamin and a dropper full of GSE and hope for the best).

Stage 3: Cross those fingers and toes

We all awoke in the morning beyond ready to leave but there was still the packing off all the supplies back into the truck which always takes longer than planned. Parked right next to a No Parking sign we played packing Tetris again (high scorers!) and finally, we were off.

The last stops between us and home:

Fred Meyer in Palmer (Safeway, essentially): For any last perishables that Costco didn’t have…maybe even some fresh herbs?

and

Fred Meyer Gas: To fuel up our barrels from home

Once you leave Palmer, you are basically home. You still have 6-8 hours before you actually arrive, but it’s the last taste of a city you’ll have for months and boy does that feel good.

I shopped again, we Tetris-ed again, loaded ourselves in again and we were off. Homeward bound (oh, I love that movie!).

Despite Doctors orders, The Chief drove the entire way home. Once you’re on a roll on the road it’s hard to stop. Our Third Amigo plagued with the Anchorage Ick too (and worse than me) got sicker and sicker as the drive wore on. I was still in the denial/taking supplements (of which I had loaded up in Palmer) stages but feeling worse as every mile flew past. Two more stops for fuel and last bits at the country store and we finally took our turn off down our 60-mile driveway home.

Finally home (again, against Doctor’s orders) The Chief, our Third Amigo and I unloaded box after box after box into our little house. As I leaned behind the seat to grab perishables, my headlamp fell onto my nose right as I hit my head into the window and cracked my nose.

“Ouch! I just cracked my nose…”

I realized that I was saying this to someone who had just had surgery two days before (like I’ve said before, I’m not the pain threshold bad-ass in this family).

We divided up items for our Third Amigo to haul home across the river and bid one another adieu for the night.

Inside, the house was mayhem. Feeling the sickness creeping further and further into reality I was ready to call it a night and start again in the morning but The Chief (thanks a lot prescribed steroids) was ready to organize! So we did and I’m glad because even organized, we had basically brought half of Anchorage back with us. The house was packed to the gills with goodies. I was so excited that I could barely sleep because I couldn’t decide what it was I would eat first in the morning.

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Oh, the bounty. The ebb and flow of eating begins…

Tucked into cozy fresh sheets, with jammies and homemade (Meyer!) lemon tea we settled in for the night. The trip was finally over. We were home.

I could finally take real care of The Chief. He could finally rest. I would cut the wood and make the meals and pamper the patient back into health. Finally he could start the post-surgery process right.

Right?

Ha! Wrong. I woke up feeling terrible the next day. He chopped the wood. He made the fire. He fed me and cared for me and pumped me up to be able to head to work (it was too late to call in sick and after being gone for so much longer than planned, I really needed the money).

You’d think by now I would finally realize that to make a plan out here is to shoot yourself in the foot but no, not yet. I planned and it failed but lucky for me I have a partner in crime.

Throughout this week he’s been told to rest, he’s checked in on me, made me tea and food and tickled my back. After everyone telling me how lucky The Chief was to have me, it turns out I was the lucky one…but I already knew that. We both are lucky.

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And so, despite playing my nurse, The Chief is healing up well. And in spite of staying longer than planned and spending more than hoped we are happy. Happy to be home and happy to have found home in one another.

Hey, there’s nothing like a town trip to bring you closer.

And there’s nothing like coming home to rainbow fireplaces and our favorite pup.

Home sweet home.

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The Three Amigos Hit Anchorage (and Anchorage Hits Back)

When you live in “The Bush”, as we do, there is a cyclical rhythm to your wants and a constant balancing between your wants and your needs. Ice cream may sound delicious but not at the price of an 8 hour drive into town. Ta-Da! Balanced.

When you are fresh off the highway from a Town Run you are so happy to be home that no convenience of modern life could sway you to return. But the erosion of that stance sneakily begins the moment you return. For me, the rhythm of wants and the balance between want and need concerns items and actions that are threefold.

List of Things I Lust for While Living in the woods:

#1: FOOD

Freshly returned from town you are flush. You have fresh fruits and vegetables (although only heartier fruits and vegetables since a sweet peach will likely perish on the trip in, while fruit like apples and veggies like carrots and broccoli are sturdy road dogs) all of your pantry staples are stocked and you even have the special extras like good chocolate and maybe a bottle of nice wine (if you didn’t get too overwhelmed and just say “screw it” when you looked at your non-necessities list, yea we organize them that way). Heck, you might even have fresh herbs (I think I just heard a chorus of angels sing “Hallelujah!”).

At first you eat vegetables at every meal. Then the cooler that serves as our refrigerator starts getting a little sparse. You can see the bottom. So you slow it down. You opt for two pieces of lettuce on a sandwich instead of four, you chop the vegetables finer so you use less and feel like you have more and you might even break into the frozen stock in order to slow the depletion of fresh.

But then, the cold snap of weather you’re experiencing (20 below) breaks and it starts to heat up (30 above). The cooler starts to warm even though you place it in front of the door by the draft to cool it via the winter air. The water bottles you put outside at night to freeze to keep the refrigerator cold don’t freeze as quickly and suddenly…

The produce starts to turn.

Now it’s go time. You question yourself. Why did you wait so long to eat it? Why did you pace yourself? Now you’re in a race against spoil. So you get to preserving and eating and sharing. We all know the feeling out here of bringing a salad to a potluck and watching time stop. Tummies stand still. Could it be? Greens? (Cue those angels).

Eventually the produce party ends. You eat your last apple, you commence the carrot countdown and the idea of salad is something you only dream of in potluck fantasies. The only fresh thing left is growing in your living room, but hey, in the middle of nowhere every little bit counts.

 

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My babies…

 

At this point you are at the mercy of your friends. Thankfully, they are merciful. But when someone is coming in from town, fresh items are the hardest to ask for. It’s not a simple 24-pack of beer that can be thrown in the bed of the truck. You question how necessary items are. You estimate: Do they have room in the cooler or the cab? Left out, the produce will freeze. It’s equivalent to asking someone to go to a specific store for a specific bottle of wine that needs to stay at a certain temperature during transport (after they’ve already performed the task 100 times for themselves). But that’s what friends are for and so for a few weeks you are supplied with just enough eggs and carrots to feel like you’re warding off the scurvy until the next time when you are the friend going to town.

#2: SHOWERS

For the first ten days when we returned in December our shower was not functioning. We had purchased an oven in town and it had taken over the original shower area and so we had to move everything around to find its new place beneath the stairs.

Real talk: The shower had been an item of high anticipation for me. For months I tried to comprehend via diagrams and explanations from The Chief how this whole indoor shower minus indoor plumbing was going to work. I wouldn’t say it was an issue of comprehension but more of denial. As much as I love food, I love showers, and that’s a lot. Due to the drought in California I had significantly reduced my water use but I still would shower near daily and fully enjoy my short time with my sudsy self. In the summer in Alaska we had an outdoor shower that could get a little chilly or buggy but was pretty amazing nonetheless. We used it almost daily. But when I asked The Chief how often people shower in the woods in the winter and he replied “Oh, every ten days or so” I nearly fell off my high horse and bumped my shampooed head on the way down. What?!

Extreme cold I’ve never experienced? Bring it on.

Removing myself from family and friends? Ok, I’ll miss them but at least I can still call them and connect.

Being in a town in the middle of nowhere cut off from civilization? I’m game.

But a shower in a bucket every 10 days or so? No thank you.

*It should be noted that having a shower in your house in the woods is not a given. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had gotten extremely lucky by having any sort of running water at all (and hot water at that).

Eventually with some quick construction a la The Chief the shower found it’s home beneath the stairs and as long as I refilled the tote reservoir I could shower every day if I liked. But it turns out that every day is simply not feasible here, at least not for me. You just don’t have the time. The house needs to be warm enough so that you aren’t freezing in your little tote tub. The water has to be filled (and that can take a whole day, remember?) Plus, do you really have the time to let your hair dry? Go outside and it turns into icicles (you’re quickest route to a haircut if you’re too handsy). It’s a process I couldn’t have totally understood until I went through it but now it makes a lot more sense.

And so we resort to daily cat baths and to showers as often as we can. This voice of shower apathy doesn’t sound like me, yet it is because by the end of a long work day the idea of getting water, heating the house, setting up the shower, blocking off the upstairs for anyone else (goodness forbid if you forget something you need for your shower up there), showering, disconnecting and draining the shower and air drying wet hair can sound like a whole other work day and you decide you’re just not that dirty.

And for months that is fine. But eventually the idea of a real shower starts creeping in. You start daydreaming about suds-ing up with the water still running. Luxury at its prime. And so, as your food starts to dwindle, you start to plan for that shower…maybe even a bubble bath.

#3: EATING OUT

The last thing I lust for in the woods is the joy of going out to eat. It’s the thing I miss the least but it’s still in the top three because although it’s an entirely unnecessary luxury, it’s a luxury just the same. You see, when you live in The Bush you make everything you eat. Except for the occasional potluck or dinner invite your three meals a day (who am I kidding, we rarely fit in three but at least two, with snacks is feasible) are yours to create along with the dishes that come with them. In some ways it’s one of my favorite things about living out here. I know my food. I know what it contains (for the most part) and I know how it was prepared.

But there are times when no one wants to cook and the idea of recreating the pasta wheel just isn’t the experiment you are up for. Carrots in pasta? Should be good, right? (Ok, it was, but that’s not the point). Sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy a meal without having to cook it or clean it. Sometimes you want to order a drink at a bar that has ice in it instead of snow (and is at a bar instead of your living room).

And so between the food and the showers and eating out, the town lust starts to creep in.

In reality, if you stop to think about it, you don’t really want to go. It’s just lust, nothing real. To leave you’d have to leave the house to freeze (meaning take out everything that can’t freeze and drain all water), you’ll have to find hotels that take dogs or ask your neighbor (her uncle) to watch your pup (meaning you also have to be away from her) and then, you have to scrounge up the money for the trip to resupply.

 

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No, I think I’d rather stay with this little lady.

 

When you stack all these needs against the wants of fresh produce, showers and eating out they pale in comparison and so you wait again for the next friend to come in and put off town for another stretch…

Until you no longer can.

You see, sometimes, town has a plan for you.

In our case, this plan was enacted via a sinus infection. The Chief has had a sinus infection since the second week we came home. Tough as he is, it’s been tougher to get him to a doctor. And so, after one round of antibiotics with little results we finally (meaning The Chief finally had time off from work and I finally could convince him to leave) decided it was time to put our heads down and head into town.

A Town Run (cue the ominous music).

But this time was different.

We were actually getting a little bit excited instead of totally weary of the idea of the big city. We would see the doctor, go to the dentist, shop and leave. Bing bam boom! Take care of things, get in some good shower time, eat out and leave. Our friend even decided to come along and it ended up we would be there the week of the Iditarod start (though we would leave on the day of the ceremonial start). Still, a quick Wednesday to Saturday trip was exactly what we needed. Three amigos on an adventure.

 

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Uno. Dos. Tres. Vamanos!

 

Spirits were high and pockets were full (with enough cash at least to last the few days). We all kept remarking that we surprised by feeling excited to go to town. Fur Rondy was happening (a pre-Iditarod event) so we all brought any fur we owned (thanks to Miss K-Po I had an Arctic Fox stole to parade around in) and prepared for a few days of fun and function mixed into one.

 

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Sidenote: Yes, California, I hear you gasping. Fur?! The thing is, fur here is like an insulated rain jacket from REI in the lower 48. It’s what you wear because it’s the best way to handle the elements. Fur is what has been used since people first inhabited this place and it beats anything synthetic. No, I haven’t suddenly become PETA’s worst nightmare, I’m not sporting a mink bikini and chasing down polar bears but my ideas about fur have shifted as I’ve seen people’s need for and appreciation of it throughout this winter.

Ok, back to town. We prepared for fun.

 

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Even the six foot ceilings in the hotel couldn’t keep us down

 

And it was fun. We went out to eat and out to drink, watched toilets flush and showers stream, saw friends from home and made new friends. We were even surprised with the gift of a sunset helicopter ride over the city and the water from our third Amigo (muchas gracias, senor!)

 

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Bouncy equals blurry.

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The view from the bird.

 

Two days into our trip and one dentist appointment down, we had one doctors appointment to go and a half day left to shop. Then we were home free. We made our way to the hospital. The appointment was at 9:30 so we had waited to eat. It wouldn’t take long. A new round of stronger antibiotics and we would be on our way to breakfast, right?

Wrong.

You see, when you live in the woods your pain tolerance seems to start to skew. The Chief had been dealing with this infection for almost three months with no more than Advil to calm the pain. He didn’t even complain, he would just close his eyes and take a deep breath as the swelling and pain would visibly go up and down (Disclaimer: I may live in the woods but my pain perception is straight on and my need for a kissed boo-boo is intact. I’m not that tough yet). The doctor couldn’t believe he had been able to last this long with this bad of an infection. She sent us for a CT Scan and before we knew it…

“Can you stay until Monday?” (It was Friday, we were set to leave in the morning, post-shopping).

“Not really. Why?”

“We’re going to need you to stay until Monday. You need surgery. There’s no way we can safely send you back to The Bush with just antibiotics. The bones in your face could break from the pressure of the infection at any moment. You are literally a ticking time bomb. We are surprised you’ve made it this long without incident.”

Oh joy.

So much for in and out with antibiotics.

That morning, on our way to the hospital while planning just what and where exactly I would eat that day I had thought to myself:

“Thank you world for letting us get through this trip without bumps.”

A lot of times, people end up in Anchorage much longer than planned. A car breaks down or needs more work than planned or some other surprise arises and suddenly a three day trip turns into two weeks. I was so thankful that hadn’t happened.

I guess I thanked too soon.

The requested stay until Monday turned into Wednesday (and a quick appointment turned into leaving at 3pm, starving). They couldn’t just operate and let him leave. Potential adverse effects of the surgery would show up within 24-72 hours so they begged us to stay the week and do a post-op appointment before we left.

The week?!

We had budgeted to be here for four days. Our friend had budgeted to be here for four days. It’s not like he could just rent a car and drive home. There aren’t any rental returns anywhere nearby nor is there public transportation to our home. No one we knew was headed back into town. I was supposed to go back to work (I got a job – cue the celebratory trumpets – which I was now missing – cue the sad trombone). Our whole world was turned upside down within minutes. Things were going a little off course. But what did I expect? This is Alaska after all, the Laugh at You State when you try to make plans.

Besides, The Plan doesn’t really matter. Not when a doctor tells you your boyfriend’s face is an infection’s playground ready to blow. And so we buckled down and settled in for the stay. We compromised to leave Wednesday to give us enough time (hopefully) to notice any adverse effects from the surgery and to let The Chief recover enough to make the long trip back home (the pressure changes throughout the drive certainly pose a bit of a treat for him and the thought of driving in snow for the first time in my life on an Alaskan highway was a sweet surprise for me).

Bright Side Benefits:

Because of the extended stay we did get to see the Iditarod ceremonial start. I love puppies as much as I love pancakes (puppies, food and showers and I’m pretty much set for life, oh and The Chief too, please).

 

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A little something for Norway

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Booties for the babes

 

…and we did get to see the Running of the Reindeer (think Running of the Bulls in snow… with reindeer).

 

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We did get to keep flushing toilets and taking showers and ordering in.

We did get to go to a carnival too (though The Chief couldn’t ride anything for fear of face break).

 

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Never did I think I’d attend a carnival (rides and all) in the snow. Brrr metal seats.

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Right outside the hotel

 

The thing is though, the sparkle of town wears off in a few days, sometimes faster, no matter how many puppy pancakes you get (and especially when your face becomes a medical anomaly). Anchorage Angst is the expedited way to explain what starts to happen the longer you are here.

Here’s the long version (and it isn’t a slam against Anchorage at all, it’s just the juxtaposition of living in the woods and getting stuck in the big city versus choosing to be there. Perceptions start to shift):

Having money and spending it is so foreign (the only time we have a transaction at home is for poker night or to pay a friend back from brought in groceries) that at first it almost feels like playing Grocery as a kid. Heck, I even almost forgot to pay for something and just walked out because it felt so unreal. But once you realize that it is real and your funds are dwindling it loses it’s glitz pretty fast.

Money Angst.

The shower you so adored just starts to feel excessive. I don’t need to use all that water. I don’t need to leave the water running as I suds up, buttercup.

Excess Angst.

Dining out starts to feel like a chore (and a strain on your pocketbook). Eating out can end up being a great meal or terrible but either way it’s a. a strain on your funds and b. probably not all that healthy. Your tummy starts a rebellion. You grocery shop to try and offset the cost but you can only eat yogurt and apples for so long before you go insane. You miss your own kitchen and knowing your food.

Tummy Angst.

And all the while, as the Angst is building, we are prepping for surgery (an extra side dish of nerves). Surgery after which The Chief isn’t allowed to do anything to exert himself for 6 weeks.

Six?!

Oh, perfect!

Logging doesn’t count, right? Does chopping and carrying firewood? Do hauling water and building projects count? Going to work on a construction site? Driving a snow machine?

Our life is built around exertion and I like it that way (lack of exertion also adds to the Anchorage Angst. Being gone for four days I figured I could get by without my running shoes, I could handle surviving on walking and yoga in the hotel room. A week and I’m feeling like a caged pup. Atrophy Angst). I like feeling tired from tending to our life and I know The Chief does too. But we will have to work around it. Just as we didn’t plan to still be here, I know I can’t start to plan what life will be like after the surgery. All we can do is show up and be grateful that we finally caved and came in.

And so the rhythm of wants changes her beat again. Days ago we couldn’t wait to arrive. Days later we are chomping at the bit to leave. It’s the ebb and flow. But even as we sit antsy in our hotel room watching “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” for the umpteenth time we have to remember that soon we will return home and start the rhythm all over again.

Soon we will be home with fresh vegetables, maybe even herbs, maybe even chocolate, so glad to be home and not even able to think about another town trip…

and then, before we know it, the hankering for an iced cocktail and a B movie re-run might come over us…

I can’t wait to get there.

Until then, wish us luck.

 

To be continued…

The Road to the North (The Journey into the Woods)

Coming home in California

  1. Get off plane
  2. Grab bag(s)
  3. Walk to meet ride
  4. Drive home
  5. You’re home, traffic willing, in under 2 hours. Traffic won’t-ing you stop for food. Poor thang.
  6. Enjoy.

Getting home to Alaska:

It took us 5 days from when we left California to get home to Alaska.

From CA we drove 11 hours to Portland.

In Portland we said our last goodbyes and headed to Anchorage via PDX.

Once we hit Anchorage and picked up the dog (thank you Alaska Airlines for not losing her, that was cool) it was GO time.

Town Run time.

Slang description: [Town Run] When people mention a Town Run (a.k.a an Anchorage Run) everyone seems to take a moment of silence together for the sanity that was inevitably lost in the process. Town Runs are supply runs. To me, supplies come from hardware stores. In the woods, supplies are everything you will (or hopefully won’t i.e. first aid) need until the next time you go into town.

When’s that?

Hopefully a few months.

Gulp.

All of your food. Clothing. Hardware (see, I knew it). Crafts. Entertainment. Building materials. Propane. Gasoline. Sanity (if it’s for sale).

Everything.

Ah, and you’ll need to be able to carry it all with you in one vehicle (we had a big ‘ol truck –seemingly enough). Add another consideration: freezing. Things that can’t freeze have to all fit inside the truck (this was a heart breaker for a veggie lady like myself). Everything else in the bed of the truck will likely freeze (the weather will decide if she wants it to or not) and therefore must be able to.

 

Things like this are just not in my typical thought process. Can mayo freeze? Sure, but then it gets “all weird” when you defrost it. Ok, but produce takes anti-freeze priority so…weird it’s gonna get.

Prioritizing like a boss.

We also had to purchase ALL of my “gear” (“gear” meaning clothing but because it’s focus is function it’s called gear). Not to be confused with fashion, function rules supreme. Asking “how does it look?” will inevitably elicit the response “how does it feel?” meaning, don’t even bother to look in a mirror – you don’t have one at home anyways – this gear is your only protection from the elements so even if it’s made of more neon than the 80’s or gives you a few (20) extra lbs. in your caboose, the point again, is function.

Fine.

Bibs that were tough enough to haul trees in, boots to withstand the low below zeros, two hundred pairs of socks (or so), skis  and ski boots and goggles and layers, layers, layers.

Sidenote: women’s “gear” is majorly lacking. I even went to the kids section because they at least make that stuff that can take some rowdiness. Nothing makes you feel more like a woman than asking if there’s a Kids XL Husky (real sizing lingo) available for your nearly 30 year-old self.

I’ve never shopped so long and hard in my life (or criss-crossed a town more – our path would have looked like a word search). 12 hour days for two days. We had to shuttle supplies into our hotel at night so they wouldn’t freeze and pack and re-pack the truck over and over.

Lastly, we shopped for perishables right as we hit the road (hours later than planned due again to criss-cross applesauce) so as to increase their chances for making it home (but certainly not guarantee it) then we picked up a few last minute pretty pleases from friends in the woods and…

Finally, we were off.

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She’s a Two-Lap Dog

 

Leaving a Town Run is the best feeling. Even with an 8 hour car ride ahead of you it feels like you’re already home. If I was in California, I would be in LA or Oregon in 8 hours. In Alaska…you’re still in Alaska.

 

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Plus, when this is the road you’re driving things are pretty alright.

 

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But then, in true Alaska fashion, it couldn’t go too easily.

 

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But six eyes are better than two.

 

We left at noon and didn’t get home until midnight.

Throughout the day we received calls about the conditions of The Road (The Road is a dirt road off the highway that is our straight shot home. It is a famed road for breakdowns in every season but winter is a special time for concern). A friend was caught in a road glacier (this is a real thing) and calling for help and to warn us of conditions, others called to tell us of their recent trips and what to watch for.

It takes a village to be able to return home.

As we turned onto the road and stopped to celebrate with the required traditional road soda, a friend pulled up out of nowhere and told us about our friend’s birthday party just a few miles down the road.

This is Alaska to a T. You’ve spent days stressing, spending all of your money, trying to make it home and as you’re almost there you get a taste of why it’s all worth it. Alaskan serendipity calls again. What a welcome home.

Leaving the party we approached the aforementioned road glacier which we thankfully crossed unscathed and finally (50 miles later) we pulled all the way into the driveway 5 days after leaving California.

Time to relax.

Nope.

Now it’s time to unpack everything you’ve brought. In the snow. In the cold. At midnight.

But first, let’s light off a lantern and hoot and holler “we’re home!” into the woods because really, that’s all that matters.

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Welcome home.