work from home

Let’s Hear it for the Girl

Well, I think we all know what the soundtrack for this blog (replacing “boy” with “girl” though, obviously)…

This past week, I’ve had the honor of helping one of my best friends move. Now, while the shuffling of boxes, the loading of a U-Haul and the inevitable pot of gold in the form of pizza and beer at the end of the helping a friend move rainbow are familiar to us all, this move was different.

Why?

Because, this friend was moving for a different reason than I’ve ever been a part of before: she was moving to give birth.

Women of Alaska
Playing Packing Tetris on one of our many runs to Anchorage together


“Moving to give birth?!” You might be thinking? To which I’d reply one word: Alaska.

Of course Alaska has a special birth plan!

You see, out where we live, the nearest medical care is hours away. There’s a very small clinic around 2 hours away, a hospital 4 hours and the big city with its plethora of options 8 hours away. So, lest a woman choose to have a home birth 8 hours away from substantial care (which HAS happened in our Town and a serious hats off to those tiger mamas), Town is the option and thus, so is a move. Most women who move tend to travel to Town about a month before their due date, as their appointments at that time have become weekly and a 16-hour round-trip every few days on an endlessly bumpy road is, understandably, less than ideal.

Malamute and German Shorthair Pointer
These road dogs know. Our two pooches, Ruger and Leto


So, this mama has been a busy birdie, nesting in two places simultaneously and this week, we flew the coop at home and roosted up in the big city. You might be wondering, “OK, sure, a move, but why a move with you, Julia?” to which I would answer: Good question. My girlfriend and her husband are building. Their little cabin has bloomed into a beautiful big house and her husband is staying behind (only for a week, don’t worry) to button it up in preparation for baby. So, that’s why (lucky) me!

Building in Alaska
New additions aplenty!


Now, while moving at nearly 37 (out of 40) weeks, from a construction zone, no less, is no small feat, I have to say, this mama has made it look easy. As someone who nests even without a bun in the oven, moving to me seems overwhelming at best, especially when carrying a tiny human, but she has moved through this time with true grace. The landing pad, her new nest, is also, thankfully, as ideal as it gets. A house on a hill overlooking Turnagain Arm in the bottom floor (an apartment of sorts) all to itself, underneath her “Alaska Parents”. If a move had to happen, this was as ideal a place as could be and so, we set out to move this mama.

Zoom baby shower
Last home hurrah! The baby shower.


The drive out was beautiful and we were lucky enough to see the Chitina Buffalo as we reached the end of our 60-mile dirt “driveway”.

Buffalo Alaska
My heart is not a bitter buffalo

My girlfriend, at nearly 37 weeks made the entire drive herself because I, super helpful mover that I am, am not comfortable enough carrying such a precious package with my slightly dusty stick-shift skills (I know, I know, I’m working on it. She’s giving me lessons!). So, that badassery, obviously, called for ice cream. When we were an hour outside of Anchorage and seeing the first real signs of “civilization”, we stopped at the Queen and got some dairy-filled goodness to fuel us through the last hour. We were there: the land of food!

Malamute puppy
Yay! Little Leto and Auntie K


For a hearty eater like myself and a quite pregnant lovely lady like my friend (who, in her non-pregnant life is also a huge fan of food) we had arrived in heaven. Fresh fruit, fun snacks, buying just one of something instead of twenty to haul and store for Winter made each purchase feel so fun and curated. We stocked up and arrived to her new nest an hour later and there we’ve cozied down since. The weekend has consisted of eating, talking about eating, doing a few baby things, eating, a hike, and planning to eat again.

Nesting
Oh yeah, and laundry, lots of laundry!


All eating jokes aside, it truly has been an honor to be here in this time. To wash and fold and sort the tiny little clothes that will keep this baby cozy and warm. To prep the house to make it feel like home. To write endless To-Do lists (and even check off a few items). To talk about what lies ahead and mentally prepare. It’s a beautiful time of anticipation and wonder and I feel so lucky to get to be a part of it.

Alaska


It’s an odd life, this Alaskan life, full of surprises and Alaskan-isms I never would have dreamed up, but it’s beautiful. To get to share this time, an intimate bond between girlfriends, is something rare to experience in our often isolated world. It feels a little ancient, tied into our past when women were a band unto themselves, a community to guide and support one another through all that life offers.

No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men. Best tshirt ever

I love it and feel grateful to have been afforded entry into this special time and for all the joyful times to follow.

Babies in Alaska
Babies galore!

So, let’s hear it for the girl! And by the girl, I mean this full-grown woman I am lucky enough to call a friend. You’ve helped me countless time in life and I am so grateful to know you. Now let’s meet this little lady!

Women of Alaska
Halloween pictures with puppies are hectic


With love,

from Alaska

Friends in Alaska
Grrr! Family photo

Living in Rural Alaska: The Library (or Lack Thereof)

As a child, my mother always referred to me as a “voracious reader”.

I relished the title.

Voracious.

It felt energetic, powerful, and important.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Anenome flower

Like the first blooms of Spring. Hello, Anenomes!

 

I consumed books like I consumed pancakes: hungrily and with a happy heart.

As the second child of my family, born nearly a decade after my brother, I often felt more like an only child as I spent a great deal of time alone. Yet alone I never really was, not when in the company of the most steadfast of buddies: my books.

The local library was where all of these buddies lived and thankfully, by the time I was old enough to take myself on outings, we lived a mere 5-minute walk from this literary haven. It was a place of absolute wonder for me. I can still remember the room’s intoxicating symphony of smells all those books created together; pages worn by time, lovingly thumbed through over and over.

Walking into the library felt like a warm embrace, which I needed at the end of each school day. Life at a new school where I was the youngest student in my 3rd, 4th, 5th combination class, was inhospitable, to say the least. I was teased and taunted and spent most of my time in the nurse’s office pretending to be sick in order to be rid of my classmates.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Alaskan Malamute

Leto, you captured the look perfectly! Let’s get this pup an ice cream.

 

The library was my respite, my reprieve, the place where I could be nameless and safe as I jumped into the lives of the characters I read about. I spent most days picking up or dropping off books on the way home from school. My only deviation in between the library and my bedroom was a quick stop for ice cream. It was a routine I loved and figured I’d always have.

Then, we moved.

I realize now, more than ever, that ease of acquisition makes all the difference. Not being able to simply pop-in to check on my book besties as I was beholden to the schedules of others in my very young, very driver’s license-less state was devastating. Over night, the library was no longer a part of my day-to-day. With our move so too came a change of schools (and finally, the addition of friends!) as well as the addition of homework.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Best friends, 5th grade

Don’t be jealous of our outfits. Best friends still today.

 

Suddenly, reading was not solely for fun, it was also for work. As a slower reader, in order to get my homework done on time, the books of my choice were no longer front and center but cast aside, waiting in the wings.

As it does, the increase in schoolwork continued exponentially. By my last stint in college, I was reading (read: skimming in a panic) hundreds of pages every day. My late teens and early twenties found me reading less and less for pleasure and more and more for grades. That is until, schooling Gods sufficiently satisfied for the time being, I found myself a graduate. The passing of that diploma into my hand meant suddenly, I was free to read anything I liked.

The voracity returned.

Bookstores and the library became places I could actually utilize again, not just browse for “when I had time in the future”. The future had come. I made time for reading and my appetite returned, strong as ever. I’d spend whole weekends in bed with my newest book, lost in the tale, entranced by the intrigue of what would happen next. I even found myself a member of a book club, which was a truly sweet full circle: friends and books (and ice cream)?! Oh my!

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, California

Double scoop.

 

All was well.

Then, I moved here, to rural Alaska where the nearest library is 4 hours away, at best.

Luckily, the books here are bountiful. It seems I have found myself amongst a whole town of voracious readers. A book is always being borrowed or recommended or returned. I love thumbing through the pages, knowing a friend has also has sat up at night, unable to sleep for the curiousity of what lies ahead on the next page.

At first, the books seemed endless. The Chief very proudly introduced me to our own neighborhood library, also known as the old outhouse. Yup. You read that right.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Alaskan outhouse

Pretty cute, ain’t it?

 

Yet, after a few years, the pages of books I intended to read have already been turned. Thankfully, yet another resource lay at our fingertips: the local library, The Tony Zak.

A local resident (you guessed it! Tony Zak) left his house to the community upon passing and since then, it has been filled to the brim with community gatherings. We have held events for everything from community yard sales to the annual Naked Lady party (an amazing clothing swap) to Christmas dinner. It also is chockfull of books, floor to ceiling.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Rural Alaskan Christmas

First Christmas at Tony’s (circus games included).

 

Still, I’ll admit, there was a part of me that missed a library like the one of my childhood. The smell of it, the sheer possibility of it, perhaps most of all, the knowing look of a librarian about to unearth in you a world unknown. Here, the selections have already been made by others, like rooting around in a friend’s closet. It’s delightful, but it doesn’t always fit. Sometimes, you need picked especially for you.

Aren’t there libraries in Alaska?

Certainly. Yet every time we go to Town, a leisurely stroll through the library is the last thing on our mind, despite both of our deep love of books (I’ve married a man who consumes books at a rate greater than anyone I’ve ever known. If my voracity is a 5-course meal, his is a non-stop Las Vegas all you can eat buffet. Get after it, babe). Amidst the hustle and bustle of non-stop chores, time to read feels very far away and a stop at the library would expel luxurious time we often simply can’t afford. Plus, then there’s the whole issue of actually returning the books. There was nothing worse to me than the disappointed look accompanying the phrase “Would you like to pay your late fee now?”.

So, I set to rest the idea of libraries for the time being.

Until one day.

“Oh, these? I got them from the library.”

“The outhouse?”

“No, the library.”

“The Tony Zak?”

“No, Julia, the library.”

Say what?!

It seems, my girlfriend had discovered an unknown magic portal to the library!

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Alaskan Buddha

Lead the way, Buddha!

 

As you may well already understand, though I certainly didn’t before moving here, Alaska is massive. Utterly massive. Yet this mass is inhabited by endlessly curious souls, industrious to the bone and so, they deciphered a way to satiate the need for knowledge: the mail.

Duh!

I don’t know why, but I had never thought of it as an option for borrowing before, just buying.

I got online and registered and immediately, it was better than I had hoped.

“Would you like us to curate a collection for your first order or order on your own?”

A curated collection? Yeeesssss, puhhhlease!

While I was able to request certain books, the librarian also handpicked books he thought I might like after personally calling me to discuss my interests. I felt like I was back in my childhood library, looking up into the librarian’s bespectacled eyes with admiration as she inquired to my interests: “Hmm…so you loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, have you read The Diary of Anne Frank?”. How special.

A few weeks later, a beautiful red package arrived with my name on it (for freeeee – insert Oprah’s intonation here – faaaarrrreeeee, people!). It felt like Santa’s giant red gift bag had been flown in by plane versus reindeer and they were all for us.

While the excitement was a little stalled by the Don’t Touch Your Mail for Three Days fun, once I eventually opened it, I was amazed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Library books, Alaska

All dem books, plus a new rug from an oh so special friend! Love you, D!

 

Amongst the goodness was a letter to us from the librarian who had curated our shipment, a Mr. Giant (best name ever).

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Library in Alaska

Greetings, Señor Giant!

 

As fate would have it, I had also just received a shipment of books from my new job and those, like homework of the past, required my attention first (though they are much less like homework and much more like reading I would have picked for myself, luckily). Still, in the nights, I dove in. Building and gardening and fiction, oh my! My 8-year old self beamed with happiness.

I wrote an email thanking Mr. Giant for the bounty of goodness and, star lender that I am, asked for an extension ahead of time, realizing the work/life book balance would need more time.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Rural Alaska

Grandma, Mom, Julia, Frida, the radio, and books? Pretty good combo for this lass.

 

Soon thereafter, the books were mine for a month longer. Oh, happy days.

Who would have thought that in the middle of nowhere I would land, lucky enough to be surrounded by beauty everywhere and…

books.

Yet another return to childhood goodness, in the wilds of Alaska.

Happy reading, all!

With love,

from Alaska

 

P.S. What are you reading these days? Comment below to let me know!

 

Beneath the Borealis, Living in Rural Alaska, The Library, or Lack Thereof, 05:18:20, Life in Rural Alaska

My latest nighttime adventure. Loving it.

 

P.P.S. Follow BTB on Facebook (you’ll see the “Like” button at the top of this page) for weekly goodies and up-to-date details.

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, The Chesters of Alaska

Alaskan Puppy Love

Alaskan Puppy Love

A few years ago, I was talking to my nephew about our beloved dog Cinda. I was telling him how every morning, after her breakfast, she would set off on her neighborhood rounds. Around the ‘hood she would trot, bidding good morning and begging for treats, eventually returning home to stand guard of her kingdom.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Cinda in Alaska

My Lou, my love.

 

He was amazed.

For her persuasive puppy ways? Her treat-seeking ingenuity?

No.

For her ability to get through the fences.

He evaluated her, a regal dog lady in her later years, and remarked:

“Oh wow, Auntie Juju! How does she get through all the fences?!”

Fences?

Of course.

He lives in a sweet little wooded area himself and is no stranger to vast open areas of land but even the largest plots of land still have fences.

In a town where I could probably count on one hand the number of fences I know of, I had completely forgotten about them. Fence-less life had become so normal to me that his sweet surprise brought me back to reality: these dogs have it good.

No fences, no leashes, sometimes without so much as even a collar to hinder their wild spirits, with millions of acres to roam.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Hiking in Alaska

13+ million acres to roam.

 

Cinda had it good and trick or treat her way through the neighborhood she did all the way up until she passed. So, when we found our new ball of fluff and welcomed him home, we assumed he’d have the same fence-less life.

Right?

Well, kind of.

The poor pooch came down with Parvo before I was even able to pick him up. Then, once he puppy powered(!) his way through it, we were sequestered to the house for 6-weeks. Never once did he go outside without me and always attached to a leash. This grated against his punk rock Papa who made Cinda wear a collar, which he dubbed her “City Clothes” only when we went to Town. Eventually, Leto’s quarantine ended, and off from the leash he went, collar-less, mildly leash-trained, and ready to roam.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Leto in Alaska

Leto, when he was just a wee one.

 

Free to be.

Until a few weeks ago.

Among the multitude of COVID complications, I never would have guessed that puppy love would have become a problem. You see, Leto is a lover. He’s one of the most social dogs I’ve ever known. He LOVES people, big and small (though he’s especially fond of babies). Yet in the time of COVID, despite his fence-less life,  physical contact with his neighborhood besties, both furry and fur-less (well, maybe just less furry) has been notably challenging for this playful pooch. No going inside for his good morning rounds, no fun. And despite his fence-free life, he’d never wandered farther than the neighborhood houses he knows. Until…

Puberty.

Oh, what a joy.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Alaskan Malamute Attitude

Whatever, Mom.

 

You see, just as Leto hit the prime time for neutering, COVID-19 swept in. Not only was our trip to the vet on hold due to travel bans, but our banned travels would have been futile, as our vet had gotten stuck out of state and wasn’t allowed back in.

While puberty was a bit, umm, obnoxious (think: newfound possessiveness over his body-length moose bone, constant grumpy face instead of the happy to see me puppy of the year past) it wasn’t any worse than anything we’d already dealt with from our little Leto beast. It turns out, however, that puberty attitudes were nothing compared to the next hurdle his steadfast testicle friends posed:

Puppy love.

A friend’s dog we’d dog-sat last year named Piper, is one of Leto’s favorite girlfriends. She chewed on his face so much that she gave him hotspots and still, he went relentlessly back for more. He was enamored. I would look out the window and there he would be, on his back with her dragging him by the neck through the mud. Leto was the ultimate pushover for her (are you also having flashbacks of your twenties right now? Eek!). The puppy love bug was strong.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Alaskan Malamute I Love You

Love bites.

 

Although they hadn’t seen one another in months, every time The Chief would return from seeing Piper’s Dad he would go crazy. Still, he stayed home. Until one day when he decided that if his girlfriend wouldn’t come to him, he would go to her. It was the farthest he’d ever wandered but I figured the isolation was getting to him and this behavior would be a one time blip on the radar.

Silly Mama.

You see, it turns out he discovered something on that visit, something I wasn’t aware of:

Piper was in heat.

His courting started coyly, with Leto greeting each early morning with a long and lonesome “Hello” howl to her. Unaware of the cause of the howling, I assumed it was just a new phase, he’d found his voice. It was cute and a daily reminder (though 13 hours early for the 8pm Howl) that we were all in this together, this quarantine life.

Apparently, the message wasn’t for us, nor was it getting through.

A few days after his howling Hello’s had begun, I got a call: “Leto is here” Piper’s Mom said. Miles away he had gone, again. I went to retrieve him and Piper’s Mom said: “I think she might be in heat”.

Oh.

No.

Still, to be honest, I didn’t think much of it.

Leto, on the other hand, did.

Transformed by the visit, his morning howls grew in intensity and frequency.

All

day

howling.

All

night

howling.

Our neighbors love us.

So, we brought him inside more often than not and listened for hours on end to his lonesome lullabies.

 

 

 

His once cute and mournful cries were now hoarse from exhaustion. He would howl so hard his voice would give out, howl so hard he would knock himself over.

It was lovely.

Working from home was even more lovely. I’d watch longingly as The Chief would set out for the day. “Bye! Let me know what life without earplugs is like!” I’d think.

Three walks per day still weren’t cutting it. When he wasn’t howling, he was sleeping from the sheer exhaustion the howling caused.

Finally, one night at 2 am, we broke. By 3 am, I had consulted every puppy resource I had and the verdict was out:

Good luck!

This won’t end until her heatwave does.

More good news?

Heats can last from 2-4 weeks.

Oh, joy.

It turns out that in comparison to the horror stories I read online, we actually had a pretty cush situation with our Leto.

So cushy, huh?

About as cushy as sleeping on a pinecone.

Two weeks and 74,000,000 howls later, we’ve discovered a semi-successful Ignore and Reward system but boy oh boy has working from home with a howling 1-year old Malamute been a pleasure. Thank goodness for the mute button in online meetings and noise-canceling earphones. Sometimes, they even work!

And so, in his first year around the sun, we’ve come full circle: quarantined again. Every move he makes is attached to a leash, except for the few times I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt and been sorely reminded that no amount of treats can dissuade nature’s call. Again and again, I’ve made the drive over to Piper’s house to retrieve him, tail wagging.

“Mom! So good to see you. Thank goodness you’re here. Can you let Piper out for me? We have some, uh, business to attend to.”

Two crazed puppies in love.

One night, he stayed under their stairs all night long. A real Romeo, you know.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Peek a Boo

One of his best tricks. Peek a boo!

 

Finally, we are staring down what must be (please, oh please) the last week of her heat. The howling, so loud it rattles the walls, has become ever so slightly less frequent and his manners have improved. He is, however, on a seemingly love induced hunger strike this weekend but, as I’ve been reminded time after time, this too shall pass. Leto has finally accepted his tied up fate (something we vowed he would never do to a dog) for the most part and has even become a bit of a gentleman on the leash.

A few months ago, at a Ladies Night, back when such things weren’t relegated to Zoom, I mentioned that Leto wasn’t as leash trained as I had wished.

Be careful what you wish for.

Despite the fact that we live in a leash-less, fence-less place, my goal had been to train Leto to acceptable standards. What were those standards? The Chief and I had different ideas of what acceptable meant and without an agreed-upon agenda, things got confusing for the young lad. Enter: puberty and things started getting messy.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Shake it Off

“Shake it off, Mom” – Leto, in the lower left.

 

Lucky me, I got my wish, and training became a must, as did a family plan. Forced by the piercing cries of our oh so lovesick pup, we had no choice but to land on the same page and for that, I am grateful. I’m also grateful for understanding neighbors and for trees to somewhat bury his lovesong sounds.

Oh, Alaska, you sneaky beast, always lying in wait to serve us up the lessons we avoid best and need most.

Thank you.

Despite the frustrations of the last few weeks, the family fights and the utterly “I’m going to lose it” inducing cadence of his howls, Leto has provided us with an opportunity to grow as a family. I’m not saying it was pretty but it was worth it. Hopefully, someday soon, to the vet, we will go.

Cheers to you. May your unexpected COVID conundrums be few or if many, may they soon subside. Best wishes in these strangely trying times.

With (puppy) love,

from Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, The Chesters of Alaska

Family portrait, minus the Fluff

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Baking, Winter in Alaska

A European Vacation

Last month, for the first time since my first Winter here, I had significant time off at home, in Alaska.

Not just time, an unprecedented amount of time: an entire month.

Aside from a few months in my first Winter (which I spent nearly paralyzed by all I had to learn in order to live and thus, not very much enjoying my unemployed freedom), I’ve always worked at least one job, most often two or more, while living here. Before that, I worked consistently since age 14, always carrying at least one but often closer to three. Even on “vacations” in the last few years, I’ve always worked at least a chunk of the time off.

So it came: A whole month off, for the first time in longer than I can remember.

Amazing, right?

Well, yes, eventually.

Work, to me, is security and purpose. I like to work (maybe a little too much) and so the idea of not working, of not having a schedule or deadlines or responsibilities or (especially) cashflow felt very overwhelming. I also knew it was exactly what I needed. The past few years have been a lot, to say the least, and I desperately needed a reset before jumping into my new job (the impetus for the time off). Thankfully, my new boss agreed – scratch that – actually, encouraged me to take the whole month off before I started my new job (thank you!) and so…I did.

“What will you do with your time off?” was the question I received most often.

“Don’t waste it!” was another common sentiment.

Yikes! I could feel the pressure building. So, I set out to quell the panic with my most favorite of lists: a To-Do list

Vacation To-Dos:

  1. Watch the sunrise and sunset every almost every day
  2. Exercise every day
  3. Write every day
  4. Train Leto to skijor (become professional skijorer, obviously)
  5. Leash train Leto to police dog status
  6. Become a seamstress
  7. Master knitting
  8. Become a collage artist
  9. Embroider onesies for all of the newest babes in my life
  10. Finish all remodeling projects on our house
  11. Bring the large washing machine inside and do all Winter laundry
  12. Bake every other day
  13. Go to the doctor and the dentist (a full trip to Anchorage)
  14. Become a fermenting pro
  15. Learn to play the guitar
  16. Learn to play the keyboard
  17. Record a few songs
  18. Oh yeah, relax
  19. etc.
  20. etc.

The list went on and on so I won’t bore you with the details but I will say this:

I completed every single To-Do!

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Alaskan Malamute Puppy Skijoring

Skijoring champion!

 

Nope.

No, I didn’t.

Of course, I didn’t.

In retrospect, I see how fast a month flies by and how utterly over the top my ambitions had been. I chuckle to think of my therapist trying to slow the runaway train of my month off ambitions so I’d finish the month in a realistic, rather than a disappointing state. Yet try as she might, I was unstoppable.

At first.

In the first two weeks of my vacation, I spent my time waking early and working on any and all business I had at present or had neglected in the past. Taxes, property searches, car insurance, titles, oh my! My heart beat far too fast and my adrenaline surged from the moment I awoke each day as my need to fill time and “not waste” my vacation jumped in the driver’s seat. I did my best to suck all the fun out of those two weeks but in retrospect, it was exactly what I needed so that the third week, I could relax.

By week three, I had finally allowed myself some time to just chill. While sleeping in eluded me for the entirety of the month (though I was able to wake at 8 am once versus my 6 or 7 am daily rooster routine). Eventually, my anxiety waned as I found the rest I desperately needed in ways I normally wouldn’t allow myself. I read in bed, which to me, is perhaps the most luxurious thing one can do, made only more luxurious by The Chief bringing me tea in bed as well. I watched trashy TV in the middle of the day (before doing so, I stopped to look over my shoulder as if to say “Am I really allowed to do this?!”) and had phone conversations with friends and family I hadn’t been able to catch up with in ages. I read magazines I’d received months earlier and never even opened and baked scones and biscuits and other buttery bits I wouldn’t normally let myself whip up.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Baking, Muffin Tops in Alaska

“Muffin tops”. Apparently, I didn’t fill them enough to get the full effect but you get the idea. Ha!

 

I also implemented a hint of a schedule via parameters: before I looked at my phone each day, I needed to complete my morning ritual of reading and journaling. It was surprising how hard that was at first but instead of waking and obsessing over everything on my To-Do list via phone from the moment I awoke, it gave me a moment to connect inwards and check in with what I needed. It allowed me to let go of my To-Dos for a moment and just listen to what my body needed.

Which was:

Not an exercise regime but instead a long, rambling ski (and snacks. Lots of snacks).

Not a sunrise/sunset agenda but a snowshoe hike or a walk whenever my body needed it.

Not a concrete daily schedule but time to be open to whatever came next.

What my body needed was a mixture of play and work, a mixture I had been missing for a very long time. So, when my body asked for a timeout, I took it and when I started getting anxious from too much downtime, up I went.

I baked and tidied the house and started long overdue organizing projects and skied and worked on skijoring with Leto a bit too.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Home ORganization

Organization in progress. What floor?!

 

Everything on my list was given a nod though not necessarily the full processional. I never even got out my sewing machine but I did go on many an unplanned adventure. New To-Dos came up that trumped my original plans. Things shifted and priorities swayed with my inner tides by simply asking myself: What do you need?

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Cross Country Skiing

This. I needed this.

 

What do you need?

So often, we forget to check-in with ourselves. So often we forget that we can provide what we need. Once I had focused on what my body and mind needed, I realized there was something else I needed: a desk. The Chief and I realized that in order to accommodate the command center my work was sending me, I certainly had a need: a new desk.

So, I went online and…

We built one. All too often, I think of something I need and go to procure it rather than manufacturing it myself. If nothing else, this virus has brought me back, full circle, to the realization that I’m often far more able to meet my material needs than I realize (and doing so myself is often far, far cheaper) So, I didn’t buy one online. I certainly researched ideas and designs online but instead of clicking “Buy” The Chief helped me manufacture a beautiful cream-colored lass made especially for me.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Alaskan Building

Work in progress

 

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Workshed, Winter

Half of the shop

 

Gorgeous as she was, she inspired us to finish our bedroom (finally) with trim and even (gasp!) actual walls. I know, I know, fancy, right?

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Building in Alaska

My moon.

 

My time off ended in a flurry of warming the work tent in the morning, working long days that carried into the night, then stoking the fire for hours afterward to protect our painted pieces against the suddenly cold outside temperatures that threatened to cool the tent. We went to bed that last week with sawdust in our hair and paint on our hands and the joy of making something, together. Down to the wire we were nailing in trim and navigating the plethora of connections my new computers required. I finished out my month off in a scurry, in true Julia fashion, but the job was done and done well. All in time to start my new job.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Work from Home

The command center!

 

Last week, as my vacation came to a close, my therapist and I laughed at my overzealous To-Do list. “This is why Europeans take a full month off every year. In the first two weeks you are detoxing from work, the third week you relax and the fourth you prepare to go back to work. There’s not really much time to start a million new hobbies. You have to pick a few”.

And I had (though not the ones I would have guessed I would have prioritized).

It was just as she said, my European vacation. Full of decompression, relaxing and then re-compression in a mindset anew. Full of hopes, reality, daydreams and dust bunnies. Full of surprises. Perhaps you find yourself in a similar surprise situation due to an unplanned virus-induced vacation of sorts. Perhaps your mountain of a To-Do list is overwhelming you. Perhaps the vacation doesn’t have an end in sight and monetary pressures loom over you.

Yet still, I implore you to dig into this moment of reprieve from the daily grind. Give yourself whatever time off you can and if possible, find the calm after the decompression. I promise you, it’s a beauty. I don’t say this as someone who is comfortable not working or as someone who would be alright financially not working for weeks on end but I do say this as someone on the other side of four weeks who didn’t realize how badly I needed them until I reached their end.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Kennicott Alaska

Mountain play date. The only thing on the To-Do list that day.

 

Despite the intensity of this COVID situation and the different challenges we all independently face, there is beauty in a necessitated slowing down. A moment to take stock of what we do have, what we can do and DIY (and save money doing so), without looking outward. Take a bath (please, for me, take a bath. Is there anything better for relaxing than a bath? Someday…), take a nap, phone a friend, build something you’d normally buy or bake a pie for no reason other than you are alive (and what a reason that is).

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Baking, Winter in Alaska

Turkey Pot Pie deliciousness

 

Give yourself a moment in this mandated moment of pause to do just that.

Pause.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Alaskan Malamute Puppy

Pause professional

 

Cheers to you, wherever you are sequestered. May your troubles be few and your time off from our persistent reality calming. May work come back to you if it has fled and if not, may financial security find you in some other way. May you find yourself a moment of calm.

To you and yours, with love,

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Winter in Alaska

Winter walks.

 

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

Apocatips

Apocatips

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

 

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

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

Not anymore.

New reality versus old reality:

 

 

 

 

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

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

The Apocalypse

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

 

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

Oh no, you don’t.

 

 

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

Oh, joy!

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

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Green onions and celery.

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

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

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

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

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

    Swiss Chard kissing Marigold.

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Spruce tips for tea and a tired puppy.

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

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

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

    Coconut milk yogurt doing its thing.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Like frittatas! Frittatas are positive.

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

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

Think outside of just yourself.

For goodness sake, do not hoard.

Be kind.

Keep you and your local and global community safe.

 

With love (and lots of handwashing),
From Alaska

 

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

Be cool, wash your hands.

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Winter 50 below zero

Cabin Fever

I haven’t left my house in three months.

This reality came tumbling all the way out of my subconscious during a walk the other day and it’s been on my mind ever since.

 

Three months.

In the woods.

Mostly just the two of us.

Sometimes all alone.

For months.

Three months.

Cabin fever anyone?

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Malamute and Alaskan

I have the Fever, Dad. Put what you’re doing down and pet me (Note: The Chief is already using his left hand to draw but that was not good enough).

 

I mean, I’ve physically left my house. I ski or walk daily though mainly the same variations of loops. Yet, the farthest I’ve ventured out in three months has been 15 miles down The Road to two different friends’ houses for a total of three trips “out” since November.

Christmas, New Years Eve and a dinner party.

Aside from that, we’ve done dinners and parties in the neighborhood often enough for all of us introverts to meet our personal levels of social overload. Yet leave our house, shut it fully down and be away overnight somewhere?

Not for three months.

When I quantify it, as in “Oh girrrrrrl…you haven’t left the house in a quarter of a year!” It seems insane or at least a little closer to shut-in status than I ever thought I’d venture. Yet when I think of the time in increments, in weather, in months and happenings, it doesn’t seem that long.

In November, the at-home novelty was fierce. I’d been back and forth to Town more times than I could count. In October, I took my last trip out, or so I thought until a kidney infection had me on a rushed 4-hour trip to the closest clinic. Two doctor visits in two weeks added to all the travel of the Summer made me feel like the calm would never come.  I longed to pull into our driveway for the long haul and finally, we did.

I spent Halloween, my birthday and Thanksgiving here at home for the first time ever in all of the almost five (five?!?!?!) years I’ve spent in Alaska. Through Fall into Winter, we whistled the months away, looking alternately at the ground and the sky, praying for snow and watching as the final trickle of people leaving for Winter came to a close. Those who were staying were here, those who were going were gone.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 December in Alaska

Winter sunsets.

 

December was jovial. We finally got some snow and the holidays were sweet and intimate, unrushed and unscheduled. Seasons greetings filled our little home and cookies and cakes (and tighter pants) were aplenty. Winter had finally arrived and we settled in to enjoy it.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Christmas in Alaska

Our itty bitty backyard tree.

 

January arrived with a little more light and a lot more cold. Almost the entire month was spent heads down trying to stay warm in near 50 below temperatures. We were deep in the thick of it: Deep Winter.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Winter 50 below zero

This pretty much captures January.

 

Then, in danced February, warm and cheery. It felt as if the days have been flying off the shelves like hot, fresh donuts (mmm, donuts). The light has brightened and lengthened and finally, after all this time, my cabin fever has finally arrived.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River in Winter

Skiing in the middle of the river

 

For the past week, it’s been sunny and warm and not just the “Oh yay, I don’t have to bundle up like the kid in A Christmas Story every time I go outside” kind of warm. It’s been the “Oh no, all of the snow has fallen off of the trees, the ground is melting and the rivers, so nicely frozen into highways have been ripped open” kind of warm.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River, Alaska

A river runs through the old river highway.

 

With the warmth and the sun comes a new energy, a different energy, and for the first time in four months, I wanted to leave. Cabin fever, right?

You see, as beautiful as Cabin life is, Cabin Fever is a thing. In the darkest of days and for months on end, I’ve drooled over the idea of a long, hot bath or the simple luxury of ordering an overpriced cocktail in the appropriate barware from someone I don’t know. Other times, the idea of being surrounded by strangers and spending dollar after dollar sounds suffocating. Sometimes I walk or ski our local loops and feel closed in. Other times I feel the expanse of thirteen million acres spread out before me. There are days when either The Chief or I (or god forbid both of us) are in a bad mood and these four walls feel awfully tight while other times we dance in our “spacious” abode.

Sometimes, your woodshed is full, your water is hauled, your batteries are charged and you’ve just gotten a replenishment of freshies from a friend in from Town and life is good. Other times, your batteries are dead, the house is cold, you’re out of water, wood isn’t chopped, you have to pump gas (and of course you’re at the bottom of the barrel) and the generator, which holds the key to most of these problems, is frozen.

There are days when all you need is to see a girlfriend (yes, there are other women here, thankfully) but the only other women around are 15 miles up The Road and at 40 below, going anywhere is out of the question. So, you sit with yourself, your emotions, your needs and tell them they will all simply have to wait until the weather moves out.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Malamute Modelo

Puppy cabin fever. Leto took to the drink.

 

Feeling feverish yet?

The funny thing is, honestly, I wasn’t.

Of course, I can think of a day or two throughout the last three months when it felt like the walls were a little closer to my personal space bubble than I was comfortable with. There were days when I just wanted to be clean with clean clothes for more than twenty-four hours at a time. But the quiet? The calm? No one around for miles? I was OK with that. In fact, I loved it. The other things were just creature comforts I experience less in the Winter but miss year-round. The truth is, I’d never felt cabin fever this Winter in the way I felt it the other day when I realized I’d been here for three months straight. The “fever”, however, wasn’t about being stuck in the cabin, it was about our being “stuck” coming to an end.

The quiet.

The calm.

The solitude.

Gone.

Don’t get me wrong, Winter is hard but I think the hardest part about Winter, for me, is letting it go.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Malamute and Alaskan

We’ve all grown accustomed to it. Even Leto’s paws pray for more Winter.

 

This past week with its temps in the low 40’s (read: everything is melting) it really hit home. For three months, leaving felt like the last thing I wanted to do. Now, it feels like the first. I want to outrun the change. To find another place to cozy down for just a few more months of a good Winter’s rest. I feel like a kiddo sleepily asking for “just a few more minutes” of shuteye every morning as the alarm goes off. I want to hit Snooze on Spring.

I’ve never been good with change. Especially change I didn’t choose (read: you know, most of life). Sure, the weather might shift again. Even as I type this post this morning the boards of the Ramp of Doom let out a crack as The Chief descends them, signifying a drop in temperature to below zero. The paths that are now icy might again be covered in snow, the river might again freeze. Yet the shift woke us all from our Winter slumber and there’s no way to dismiss it: Summer is coming…slowly.

Once the Winter spell is broken, you can’t go back. The reality is there. As snoozing pales in comparison to deep sleep, we too feel the end in sight. You know there’s no going back to the quiet calm you came from.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River, Alaska Crosscountry Skiing

So long middle of the river skis…maybe.

 

Until next Winter.

Until then, I’m grateful for the stretch we’ve had and pray to the skies for a little more snow, just as we did those three months ago in November.

Only time will tell.

Cheers to you and yours wherever you may be. Whether you are ready for Summer or Spring or still clinging to the depths of Winter. Wherever you are, may you be happy.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Malamute in Alaska in Winter

Our pensive pup.

 

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What’s in a Name?

Two years ago this Winter Solstice, The Chief and I got engaged. We’d talked about marriage since the week we first met and cheesy as it may sound, the moment I saw him, I knew we would marry. I knew, but I certainly didn’t know how. The odds seemed stacked against us. I lived in California, he in off-grid Alaska in a lifestyle completely foreign to me. I was looking for a change but hadn’t anticipated a change that great. I wanted a career and living in the woods seemed like the last place one might bubble up. Yet, that feeling, that knowing I felt when I first saw him, that was all I needed to know. I threw my cautions to the wind, gave fate up to the universe and dove into a life together.

Thank goodness.

Having discussed marriage right off the bat, we had always had an open dialogue surrounding it. How would we do it? Where? Would we change our names? Did we care if we were married before we had kids? Just like any hatchling of an idea, we brainstormed about where and when and how it would all go down, what we valued (food, food, more food) and what was less important but one thing was missing: our engagement.

I figured it was just a formality, a simple change in status from girlfriend or boyfriend to fiance. Yet, once we were engaged, things actually did change.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters

Post-engagement photo courtesy of LB

 

After getting engaged, our dual daydreaming we’d nestled in together for the two years prior suddenly became public and the questions and comments started pouring in.

“Where will you get married?”

“When?”

“Alaska? Alaska is too far.”

“Whose name will you take?”

Suddenly, our private dreams turned public were instantly open for opinions, suggestions, and scrutiny. As with any public decision, that’s the norm. We all do it. I’d seen it happen and I’d done it myself despite friends lamenting to me about it. Yet even familiarity with this switch didn’t prepare us.

Alaska is a long way off from a lot of the people we love but it’s also our home. Yet, within weeks of getting engaged, we were suddenly somehow planning for a California wedding. Things moved so fast. At first, I was just looking at dresses, then suddenly I was being asked to sign on the dotted dress line, all while discussing our venue options, all while in California.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Dillon Beach, CA

She’s beautiful, isn’t she?

 

Returning home to Alaska made us realize that, just as always, despite the hard, despite the sacrifices, Alaska is our home and home is where we needed to be married. And so, we planned together for our marriage in Alaska.

One of our plans was that I would change my name. This was something we had gone back and forth about since the very beginning and it was a decision made after much debate and a little magic. You see, The Chief and I both have some interesting familial twists and turns and as we followed each potential family name, we often found ourselves at dead-ends. There were adoptive names, step-family names, names we could have created together and family names. After trying all of the above and more on for size for years, we had finally settled on choosing a family name of which there were two contenders: Page & Chester. However, other than occasionally (and jokingly) being called The Chief in town, The Chief has been known as his last name since moving here: Chester.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters of Alaska

Chief Chester

 

In deciding for whom it would be more difficult to change, I decided that it should be me to switch. Changing my last name was less of a hassle than essentially changing The Chief’s first name. My change would consist mainly of paper while his change would require a complete social shift. While The Chief agreed that perhaps it might be easier, we both wanted to be thoughtful in the process and all the history it carries with it.

We sat with the idea. It grew familiar and warm and sweet. I cherished it.

The Chesters.

Still, despite the sweetness, I wondered if it really mattered? Why do we need to share a last name when we are already sharing a life? I ran through my reasoning in my head. Some reasons were small like the simplicity of just writing: The Chesters versus both of our last names and the idea of our kids not having to enter epically long hyphenated names on a scantron test. Some were larger, deeper like the fact that growing up, almost everyone in both of our households had different last names. Everyone was a step or a half and I wanted us all to be a whole, the same. For me, it always boiled down to having kids. To me, this was our chance for a new start together as our own family unit.

Still, I waffled. What would it mean publicly? Would I be considered less of a feminist? Looked down upon by those who had held fast to their names? Would I miss my own last name?

Despite the waffles (and the pancakes), the true, most basic reasoning I wanted to change my name was that my gut told me that “Turning the Page to Chester” (a phrase coined in an Anchorage bridal shop by a spunky lass from Ireland) was an important move for me, one that I needed to make in order to transition from just me to us.

Still, logical or better doesn’t always compute to easy. Change has always been uncomfortable for me, even when it’s in my benefit. I’ve ducked many a change just to avoid transitional discomfort. This change I was hurling my own direction.

So, like any big decision, I put it up to the Universe. I’d ask, the Universe would respond and that would be the end of that.

Right?

Sort of.

The first time, which I swore would be the one and only time, to help me decide I asked:

“Universe, what do you think? Should I be Chester or Page?”

I was driving the backroads of my childhood hometown, roads I’d frequented for almost 30 years at the time. I knew every stretch, every turn. No sooner had I finished my query did I look up and, on a road I’d driven umpteen times, there was a sign, literally: Chester Lane. The sign was old, not some newbie staking their new territory. It had always been there.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester, CA

Chester Lane

 

Convinced, I drove on, feeling warm and light and calm. It was decided.

A few days and a few “Oh, you’re changing your name, huh?” conversations later, I was feeling a little less warm, light and calm. Should I not change my name? Our private decision, which had once felt so right was being publicly challenged. Perhaps I had misheard the Universe. So, again, I asked:

“Wait, did I hear you wrong? Seriously, what do you think? Should I be Chester or Page?”

I said this in an antique shop as I thumbed through vintage postcards. They were divided by state. I was sending cards to people based on where they were from in the country. Missouri for my Grandma. California for Chris and my family, etc. I was halfway through California when I posed the question to the Universe and the next card I thumbed past was a postcard of a snowy scene…in Chester, California.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, The Chesters, Chester, California

My little reminder, on my desk still today

 

I’d never even heard of Chester, California and I’d lived in the Golden State most of my life.

The second time was the charm. I was tired of debating, tired of going back and forth and tired of not listening to myself. I wanted to be Chester. I would be. It was decided.

Our wedding day grew closer and closer and with it came public formalities: registering for a wedding license with the state, filling out paperwork, making financial decisions. Our once private decision-making was now not just public, it was about to be set in stone in the public record. While weddings are, at their base level very romantic, they come with a lot of red tape and planning and learning the hard way. They may not be for everyone, but for us, it was an important transition that I cherish (though certainly, I didn’t always at the moment).

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Marriage License, Anchorage, Alaska

Cuteness.

 

After two years of waiting, the real deal wheels were set in motion and in early September this year, I became Julia Chester.

Sort of.

Talking about a life change and making that change, as I had learned already with talking about marriage versus actually doing it, are two different things. Talking about becoming Chester was easy, changing was less so.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019,The Chesters of MXY

September 2019

 

A month after our wedding, sitting solo in the Social Security office on a rainy Fall day in Anchorage, it didn’t feel so easy. Writing my old name next to my new name made me well up and not with joy. I felt a sadness I didn’t quite understand. Still, forward I went. The Universe had answered, twice. I need not ask again.

A week later, back at home, I received my new Social Security card. Julia Chester. The Chief beamed. My stomach hurt.

“I’m having second thoughts about changing my name,” I told him. He responded with kindness and comfort, telling me to do whatever I needed. He encouraged me to take a pause, a breath, a moment. Besides, it would be a while before I would be headed back into Town for phase two of my name change (my license). I would take this pause, slow things down and see where it lead me.

For a few weeks, I decided not to think about it. I’ve always been someone who needs a lot of space to think and a lack of self-judgment to connect with what is true for me. It’s not easy. I gave it some breathing room. After a few weeks had passed, the planted seed started to sprout. I started to think about it again, to research. I reached out to friends I trusted, who were married and who had or planned to have children to ask how they had decided on their last name. I researched the topic on the internet. I researched within.

Then, I put it up to the Universe one final time.

“Should I be Chester or Page?”

Silence.

Nothing.

Everything.

At that moment, the moment I waited for a sign, I heard nothing from outside but from within, I heard myself say “Chester”.

Chester.

The sadness I had felt in the weeks proceeding suddenly felt far away, outside myself. The warmth returned. I no longer felt I was losing a part of me, I felt like I was moving into a new part of me and a new part of us. It felt exciting, new and pretty darn adult. Speaking with my therapist (yes, I see a therapist. I highly recommend it and hope that sharing my experience with this tool helps to remove the taboo of seeking help. If you want it, it’s there and I support you finding it) helped me to realize that, for me, letting go of Page was much deeper than a name change. For me, it meant letting go of what Page had always meant for me: being a daughter in my family. My name was given to me by my parents and thus, my attachment to it was my attachment to them, to my family, to what might have been. Moving on meant letting go of that and moving from the role of daughter to wife. My family as a whole was getting larger but my family unit was getting smaller. My unit had shifted from my parents, my brother and I to instead, The Chief and I.

A unit of two.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019,The Chesters of MXY Wedding.jpg

Something old, something new

 

Plus Leto. A unit of three.

I finally felt at peace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, changing one’s name is a royal pain in the patootie. The instructions make it seem simple:
1st: Change your Social Security card

2nd: Your driver’s license

3rd: Your passport

Badabing, badaboom! Easy peasy!

Oh so very wrong.

Aside from the fact that changing all of these means 16-hour round trips (#2 and #3 both requiring #1 to have been completed first, meaning another at least 8 to 16-hour round trips), there are the nitty-gritty changes that I never anticipated. You see, once I’m in, I’m in and having loose strings hanging drives me crazy. Having already completed Step #1, I thought I was close to the finish line. I started in on the other, unmentioned changes I hadn’t quite factored in: changing my bank, my checks, my computer ID, my logins, my email, my work information, etc. etc. and at each junction, I ran into issues. Mailing in copies of our wedding certificate, spending hours on the computer, sending a photo ID and other legalese has proven far more time consuming than I had ever anticipated. To say that changing your name is a breeze is like calling a hurricane a breeze. It’s not. It’s difficult and time-consuming and frustrating, all of which is exacerbated by our remote location.

 

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Sunset in Alaska

3:30 pm sunset.

 

Yet still, despite the annoyances, each juncture has allowed me to continue my commitment, our commitment to the private decisions we made years ago, in our tiny cabin in the woods. For me, it’s been extremely healing, for others it might simply be a non-issue. We are all different. I’ve spoken to many different people and gained countless insights while I hemmed and hawed over my own decision. I’ve learned that even when in public it seems someone is moving effortlessly through life phases, in private, they might not be. Everyone struggles in different ways. We don’t know until we ask. We are all different, yet one thing everyone agreed on was their advice: find what works for you.

While this sounds so simple, for me, it wasn’t. It took years to discover and years to accept but now that I find myself on the other side, it’s the best advice I could give: Find what works for you. You know. Deep down, you do know. Do what works best for you and your family. It’s no one’s decision but your own.

Thank you to everyone who has candidly shared their private decisions turned public with me. Your honesty and openness helped me to be open with myself. Open to a new name, a new unit, a new phase. May your transitions be smooth and may the Universe guide you, if not anywhere, then back to yourself.

With love,

 

From Alaska

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester Christmas

Happy Holidays

Beneath the Borealis, What's in a Name? December 30th, 2019, Chester Christmas Leto

From the three Chesters

Beneath the Borealis, Stay, Home Sweet Home

Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay

Last night I received a text from one of my dearest girlfriends inviting us all to her annual Vision Board Party. Despite the madness of the holiday season, every year, she calls us to action to think about what we want going forward and despite the hustle and bustle, we all show up. Truth be told, this woman could rally a group of sloths into action. She’s spunky and fun and has always been able to motivate our squad into whatever quirky plan she’d hatched. Once she came over after I’d just awoken from a nap and somehow convinced me to play dress up like we did in Elementary School together and go for a walk. We were decked from head to toe in random 80’s workout gear, fanny packs included. Did I mention we were in our twenties? Like I said, she’s a good motivator.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Stay, Best Friends

Dress up Nerds then. Dress up Nerds now. Love you two.

 

I got her text invitation last night as I sat in front of our fireplace, book on my lap, dog snoozing by my side, Winter finally having arrived and I realized, that last year’s Vision Board had come true. Well, last year’s Vision Board Party premonitions at least. I never quite got to the board.

Last year, everyone cutting and pasting away while laughing over discussions of love and life, I felt loved but lost. People kept sending the wedding magazines my way. I wasn’t that bride. I hadn’t even thought of our wedding. There were travel magazines filled with places I’d like to travel to and skills I’d like to hone. Exercise, relationship, work goals all sat in front of me. It was normally my smorgasbord of goodness. I’d normally dive right in. I just didn’t feel motivated.

What I did feel motivated to do was to go Home. It took my other dear friend telling me so first though. There, amongst the scraps, she looked at me and said: “As much as I don’t want you to, I think you need to spend the next full year in Alaska.”

It felt as if someone had given me permission to sleep after months spent awake. Suddenly, a weight felt lifted. In a few short weeks, we would be heading Home to the wintry North and Home we would stay.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Stay, Home Sweet Home

Last year. Finally home.

 

It’s funny the things we get used to, take as fact, expect and accept, even if they no longer serve us. Every year our pattern has deviated slightly but overall, without much thought, has been the same: months away from home, starting in the Fall. Dont’ get me wrong, it’s been great but until last year, we’d never evaluated whether it was working for us any longer. Besides, it’s a classic Alaskan pattern. Our pattern began when I left Alaska after my first Summer to return to California for two different weddings in late August. I’d already RSVP’d (though probably only verbally. Sorry, y’all!) and I’d already changed my ticket once. I was going down South.

Soon after, The Chief, having not left the state in years, joined me and we road-tripped down the Pacific Northwest into California where we stayed for the next two months. All in all, I was away from Alaska for almost four months and The Chief for almost three. A third of that year and a quarter of that year, The Chief and I were gone from Home.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Home Sweet Home RV

Home sweet California Home (or one of them).

 

It was the longest time The Chief had been gone from Alaska since he had moved here.

By the time we were leaving, he ached for Home. I, on the other hand, was trepidatious. Home wasn’t quite one Home to me yet, rather it straddled two states. My first Winter in Alaska loomed before me and stared menacingly like a beast under the bed. It was unknown and uncertain with just a pinch (or two, or three) of fear added in. Leaving California, leaving Home to go Home, was hard but love is a crazy drug. Off we went.

Once we got Home to Alaska and I started to get the hang of a whole new type of Alaskan life (Winter), I fell in love with this place all over again.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Happy Husband

Day # 1, Winter #1. The happiest hubby in our happy place.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Stay, Alaska

The back-backyard.

 

Still, the following Fall we left again as we have every year because suddenly, that’s what we did. With one trip a rhythm and an expectation had been created in ourselves that we simply followed without much thought. It was nice to know when I’d next see friends and family. Nice to know when I’d get a change of scenery.

So, we did the finding housing in California dance (which always starts long before we leave, as does the stress of it). We did the car dance, making sure our California rig was registered and ready (which, of course, it never was). We spent hours on end preparing our house for Winter, packing away that which would explode when frozen and hoisting off of the ground anything we didn’t want to become unusable yard art. Then, to top it all off, we spent thousands of dollars to make the journey through plane tickets and vet appointments and health certificates, car storage fees and more. All of which was fine. It was what we did. 

And I’m glad we did. We spent quality time with those we love and those we have lost. We grew to know one another’s friends and family and backgrounds. We got to experience the love one another’s friends and family feel for them and now for each of us.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay,  Friends

Julia Dinner. I will always cherish this picture. Thank you, Sloats.

 

We loaded up the car and boarded planes countless times to travel here or there to learn one another’s past and grow our family as a whole larger by combining our two worlds. Traveling from home for months on end became the norm.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Dillon Beach

So did beach days with this love (the one with two legs).

 

We didn’t think much of it. Seasonal travel is a common rhythm for Alaskans. The Great Exodus starts in late August with a boom. This town goes from hustling (for us) to hushed in a matter of days. Yet those who stay welcome the quiet and settle in to enjoy it for the time they have left until they too depart. Conversations lead with Winter plans. Every few weeks someone is leaving for a few weeks, a few months or until next Summer.

This and many other things Alaskan quirks have become the norm to me:

  • Outhouses are now old hat and sometimes preferable (except in the middle of the night. I’ll give indoor plumbing that).
  • Smelling of gasoline is the new norm (when dealing with the generator. Don’t worry, I’m not using it as a chosen perfume).
  • Spending intensive time with and without my partner (this is a true Alaskan relationship tip that I think is priceless: build in time to miss your partner).
  • Salvaging bits off produce that before I would have thrown away whole into the compost (I think L.H.’s term was is it “Alaska good still?”. Love it.)
  • Showering once, maybe twice per week in the Winter with birdbaths in between.
  • Leaving.

Yet this year, Leaving suddenly didn’t feel normal. After seeing so many of our beautiful friends and family at our wedding, celebrating together and feeling so much love and validation for our place here, leaving just felt like the exact opposite of what we needed and so, we didn’t.

As much as I miss our friends and family down South, this is what we needed. A time to be cozy together. A time to nest into our life here that we’ve thrown on the backburner for the last few years. A time for firsts. First birthday at home, first Thanksgiving. A time to focus forward on our future here.

California, lucky for us, was Home to both of us for twenty plus years. It will always have a place in our hearts and our itineraries but this year, the Vision Board Party wish came true:

Home Sweet Alaskan Home.

This year, I’ll connect with the Vision Boarders vis FaceTime as we wish one another well in our year to come but this time, I’ll be doing it from exactly where I need to be: Home.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Vision Board

First year’s board. A lot of checkmarks here!

 

May your wishes come true and may your Winter be cozy, wherever you may be.

Cheers to the motivators in your lives, the loves who know you even when you don’t want to admit they are right. Cheers to tough choices and friends to help you make them, even if it’s hard for all of you. Cheers to dear friends and family, near and far. I can’t wait to see you.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Nephew

I’ll miss my O snuggles for sure.

 

With love,

from Alaska

Beneath the Borealis, Welcome to Alaska, Enjoy Your Stay, Alaskan Malamute

and Leto at 3:30 pm.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan Malamute

Porcupup

Almost two months ago now, back when Fall colors had fallen and the leaves paved our paths in gold, we were starting to settle in. Time had slowed, Summer had fallen away and with it, hundreds of people were gone. There were no drumbeats for us to keep pace to. The quiet was upon us.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Fall colors Alaska in September

Handsome hubby.

 

With the wedding in the rearview and no looming leaving deadlines ahead of us, without plane tickets requiring chores to be done and the house to be shut down, we were home for the foreseeable future for the first time ever in our four years together. Since our very first year as a couple, the Fall has meant packing up and shipping out to the Lower 48 and spending a great deal of money to do so. It’s been a time of continuing the energy from Summer, rather than a slowing down as the season requests and of spending resources we don’t exactly hold in excess.

This year, we looked forward to the continuity and calm of home and the tightening of our financial belts by living simply.

So, two months ago, on a quiet Sunday, in keeping with a calm home program, Leto and I decided to take a walk with our neighbor and her dog while The Chief read and dinner bubbled away on the stove. The stage for the night was set: a leisurely sunset walk with a friend, sausage soup with greens from the garden and herbs harvested throughout the Summer for dinner and a cozy evening, just us three.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute family photo

Chester Family photo, September 2019

 

Leto has a tendency to be like a horse to stable, barn sour if you will. For most of the duration of our walks, he’s within eyesight, regularly stopping to check in on me, sit and watch for me, circle back for me but there’s a point too when he realizes that “Homeways is rightways now” and home he heads, leaving me in the dust. Our last pup, Cinda, used to do the same thing and we joke that she’s up in Pup Heaven (a.k.a MXY in the Sky) teaching him her wonderful ways. So, I wasn’t surprised when, as we rounded the bend up from the river, indicating the turn back towards home, he started gaining ground ahead of us, taking a shortcut through the woods.

I was surprised, however, when I heard what I can only describe as a scream coming from the direction he’d run (and by surprised, I mean surprised and then terrified). It sounded as if something had been dealt its final blow. The something, I wasn’t sure of. It was a noise I’d never heard Leto make but something told me all was not well with my pup. My heart started pumping faster as I tried to place the scream and run towards it. Bears were still out, moose are always a concern and wolves had been roaming the neighborhoods of the valley and have taken dogs as their prey. There was no knowing what this could have been but the sinking feeling I felt told me the options weren’t great. If I found him, I expected to find him dead.

“Leto!” We yelled as we circled back through the woods he had run through. No, this didn’t feel right, I thought. Homeways, head homeways. Screaming for him and hearing nothing in return, no movement, no yip, no whimper sent my fear into overdrive. I started running home and then, around the corner, running towards me, came Leto.

Leto with a face full of porcupine quills.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute with porcupine quills in Alaska

The Porcupup

 

In my wildest worries, I had never considered that the scream could have come from a porcupine encounter. A wolf, a bear, a moose, yes, but a porcupine? We just don’t see them on our side of the river very often. In fact, I had never seen one in our neighborhood in four years. Lucky Leto, he’d found the mystical West Side porcupine.

Immediately upon seeing me, he came in for a moment of comfort and then ducked into the trees to lay down and assess his situation. I did too and the outlook was grim. I’d seen dogs with quills before but they’d always been few enough to pull ourselves. This was another level. He started thrashing about, trying to pull them out with his paws, each time coming precariously close to the one just centimeters from his eye. In his panic, he threw open his mouth and I saw the roof, littered with quills.

This was bad.

Still, he wasn’t dead. A face full of quills was suddenly the best-case scenario I hadn’t considered and bad as it was, I was glad we were in it as opposed to the other fears that had fetched my mind.

Finally, we convinced him to come home with us but the quills in his paws must have been excruciating as he would duck back into the soft mossy ground of the woods every few paces and lay back down. I needed to get him home to where the pliers were to see if this was something we could even handle on our own. Finally, he just stopped.  He wouldn’t move and I couldn’t get a hold of The Chief as he was fully ascribing to our evening electronics shutdown goal and his phone was off.

Our neighbor offered to go and get him while I stayed with Leto. I didn’t want him running off deeper into the woods like he wanted to. I had a flashback of our Cinda doing the same thing when she got the injury that eventually ended her life and it made me sick to my stomach. Off E went to fetch The Chief and just as I heard our truck rumbling closer, Leto decided he could make the journey home.

Like ships in the night, the missing game began. The Chief came my way, I went back his way. Now we both were panicked. Back at home, Leto tucked himself in under the house. I crawled in after him, still listening to The Chief calling for us but still not wanting to leave Leto. Our neighbor came to check on us and saw that The Chief had missed us and off she went to find him again. Thankfully, this time when ships in the night floated past one another again as he turned back home at the same moment as she arrived to tell him where we were, The Chief was headed back to us. The Laurel and Hardy, Who’s on First routine certainly didn’t help the frustration of an evening already thoroughly thrown off the rails.

Quiet night?
I think not.

After we pulled the first quill, huddled under the house with headlamps, Leto knew the game and was not a willing player. Quills are barbed, like sea urchin spines and so when they go in, they lodge there, making pulling them out extremely painful. He was wild-eyed and after pulling 15 or so, we realized that this was not going to work. There was no way we could get the quills in his mouth, he wouldn’t dare let us near them. Another neighbor came over to check on us and validated what we feared: a trip to the vet was in order.

Tonight.

The emergency vet was four hours away and I didn’t know if she was even on-call these days (I called our regular vet and she was out of town and wouldn’t be back for weeks). Thankfully, she was.

“How soon can you get here?”

“Probably by 11 pm, depending on how good driving through The Pass goes.”

And so, we set out to drive the wintry pass to Valdez. We loaded our quill-faced pup into the car where, after an hour of pain and thrashing and panic, exhaustion started to set in. He sat up, trying to sleep without putting pressure on any of the quills, not being able to rest his head. The drive was dark and tense as we still hadn’t purchased our much needed new headlights (after losing not one but two lightbars to the 60-mile bumpy dirt road) and the view of the night was dim at best. I put on an audiobook to lighten the mood: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. If you know the book, or just even a basic history of our beginnings, you know that it didn’t quite do the trick.

Finally, four hours later, we arrived. Still, despite everything, Leto wagged his tail and joyfully greeted the vet. He’s a big fan of new friends. A few minutes later the sedation came on and the quills started coming out. His face filled with blood as she ripped the quills out of his delicate lips and sweet little nose but it wasn’t enough and he thrashed about, despite all three of us holding him down, screaming and crying as only a Malamute can do. It was awful. Finally, with more sedation, she was able to prop open his mouth to unveil the work to be done inside. It was like a cave with stalactites and stalagmites. Top to bottom was filled with quills: tongue, roof, cheeks, gums. She started pulling. Some were wedged in sideways, going longways through his gums but she worked methodically to get them out and soon he was near finished.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute with porcupine quills

Still smiling (or just very stoned).

 

She checked his body for any stragglers and found them in his back, his neck, his paws and his shoulders. We had a moment of lightness as we joked, “Did he roll on it?!”. I pictured him trying for a tasty bite of the “spikey bunny” and being in such shock at the pain of the taste that he fell and rolled onto the poor creature. Some quills came out quickly after we found them (which is no easy feat since the quills burrowed through three layers of fur) but some had gone in completely and lay flat against his shoulder blade and face. She tried to cut them out but decided they weren’t going to budge. “They will work themselves out”.

Two hours, one very wobbly drugged dog and 400 plus dollars later, we were out the door, in Valdez at 1 am with nowhere to stay. We stopped by every hotel we could find but as the tourist season had just closed shop for the year, our pickings were slim. We took turns running into the hotels and each time came back with a thumbs down: no dogs allowed. Finally, the last hotel allowed dogs for a 20 dollar fee per night.

20 dollars in addition to their nightly rate of almost 200 dollars.

Thankfully, the front desk took pity on our little man and gave us a discount bringing the total to just under 200 dollars.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Malamute after the vet

Still a stoney baloney

Still not able to walk, The Chief carried Leto through the slippery parking lot. He howled and cried every time he moved even an inch, in pain and dysphoric from the drugs. We settled into our very expensive hotel room and I washed the night off of me with a bath. Leto whimpered and panted all through the night. None of us slept well. The next day, my morning started early and with yet another bath (someday, someday I will have a bathtub and I won’t even have to pay 100 dollars per bath) as I prepared for three hours of Monday morning meetings at work. Thankfully, there was a breakfast buffet.

A few hours and a few meetings later and it was checkout time. Leto still could barely put pressure on his paws but he finally peed on his own. It was time to go home. We filled up on fuel and grabbed some road snacks and off we went.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Valdez, AK

At least it was a beautiful drive.

 

What a Sunday. What a start to the week.

Four hours later, we returned home where yesterday felt very far away.

In just 12 hours, we had spent over 800 dollars of unplanned expenses and our quiet, cozy Fall evening had turned into a panicked, hours-long stress fest. We were all completely exhausted, but we were home.

Home sweet home.

Two months later, we are still finding quills in little Leto. They burrow their way out and pierce through the skin. One erupted over a few hours and was heading straight towards his eyeball until The Chief deftly pulled it out. Even last night, I was rubbing his chest and felt one slide sideways through his tissue. Someday, they will all work through.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan Malamute

Hello, handsome dude!

 

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be crouched under a cabin with my husband in the middle of nowhere pulling quills from our Malamute. Four years ago I’d never even thought twice about porcupines. What a difference a few years can make.

The Fall finally fell into place and the quiet settled in again, even more so as the final departees left the valley. We retightened our financial belt that had been busted loose from our porcupup and cozied down, preparing for Winter.

In the two months since Leto’s brush with the pokey bunny, we’ve had two more unexpected trips to Town and the expenses to go with it. One to replace The Chief’s broken snowmachine and one to repair a UTI turned kidney infection of mine. Oh, joy! So much for spending less by staying home but, still at home we are, mostly. Despite missing friends and family, I know it’s exactly where we need to be right now: cozied down, pulling quills and praying for snow.

With love,

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-25-19, Porcupup, Alaskan couple

Knit cap brigade.

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, McCarthy Alaska

Back to the Waves

A week ago we returned home from a week in Anchorage for a Town Run.

Town.

{insert ominous music}

As we drove out, we waved to passersby on The Road (our 60-mile dirt “driveway” that leads to the “town” we live just outside of).

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19 Malamutes of Alaska

Helllllooooo!

 

Around here, we wave to everyone. Everyone does. It’s a sort of natural reflex we all seem to feel out here. Everywhere I go, every person I pass, I wave a greeting of “Good day”.

Yet, that’s not true.

As we hit the pavement, the waves continued…until at some point they didn’t. Around 4 hours into the trip they just stopped for both of us automatically. It wasn’t due to waving fatigue, those muscles are strong, (waving fatigue, a real killer. But, like I said, we are seasoned wavers) it was something different.

By the time we reached Anchorage, waving was no longer a part of my repertoire, it wasn’t even a consideration.

Perhaps it’s due to the reality that even a seasoned waver might get fatigued with all the faces to greet in a big town. Perhaps it’s the fact that in all likelihood, you’ll never again see most of the people you wave to in a city whereas in the woods, you may not know the person but in all likelihood, you eventually will. Maybe it’s because in a city we are all too busy. Maybe it’s because a city feels as if it belongs to no one and a small town feels as if it belongs to everyone. Everyone gets a Mayoral wave. Maybe it’s because out here we are rarely anonymous and out there we almost always are. Perhaps I’m just missing the wavers. Perhaps they’re waiting for me to wave first.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

In all the hustle and bustle of Town, contemplating waving fell far back in the line of things to do and I promptly forgot about waving altogether. With our wedding date fast approaching and a litany of lists of To-Dos, and the simple fact that we were in Town, my contemplation didn’t get much deeper than How Do We Do Every Single One of These Chores Done in Not Enough Time to Do Them? and Oh No, I Forgot to Eat Again! What’s Close and Quick?

Town is a jungle for us. We navigate our way through traffic and hike through lines of people. We get cut off and passed at 90 on the freeway. It’s intense going from one extreme (where I swear I haven’t driven over 30 mph in months) to the next but in all honesty, the place gets a bad rap. There’s a great art scene, delicious restaurants, fun cocktails, and beautiful trails. The truth is, it gets a bad rap because we rarely get to enjoy the benefits of Town. It’s in and out and rushed all the way through.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, Get Married in Alaska

Chores galore. Even this became a chore…but we did enjoy ourselves.

 

We ended up staying at our best AirBnB yet tucked next to a sweet little creek on a trail system with salmon swimming upstream and ripe raspberries prime for the picking in the backyard. It was tranquil and idyllic and still we had next to no time to try to soak in the meant to be mini-vacation (unless, of course, you consider walking your dog at 11 pm soaking it in because damned if I wasn’t going to walk the trails, even if it did have to be after a 12-hour chore day). It wasn’t all rushing, we did get to see some great friends, try a cardamom cocktail(!) and enjoy some delicious eats, just all with a steady level of hurry packed in with them.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19 Cardamom cocktail

Cardamom & Star Anise? Yes, please.

 

After our unanticipated week in Town (we meant to be there for 2 days but realized we had chores enough for 10) we were beyond ready to be Home. We hit the pavement, leaving Anchorage at a bright and early 12 noon. Ouch. The 8-hour drive stared at us menacingly, but we didn’t care. We were pointed in the right direction.

It’s funny how quickly we can change, adapt, forget. Within 7 days I had gotten used to getting a mid-day coffee or chai and so as we drove towards Home I pondered which I would order when we stopped for coffee…

In the middle of nowhere?

Nope.

As the city fell into our rearview I realized I was 4 hours out from the nearest coffee shack which just might be open when we got there. In just one week I had forgotten that a coffee stop wasn’t just a few streets away at all times.

Then, I had to pee.

This time, the realization that we weren’t in Town was a joyous one. Having to pee in Town means lines, people, sometimes a purchase, waiting. Having to pee in the woods (or at least on your way) is a simple switch of a blinker and a slow down. The Chief pulled the truck over and Leto and I each found our spot and within a minute, we were back in the truck, back on our way Home.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, Malamute puppy in a wedding.jpg

Happy puppy, tucked beneath a mound of flowers.

 

Within a week I had gotten used to some aspects of Town and forgotten the way we do things. The new normal happens so fast.

Four hours or so into our drive, it happened.

We both waved…

to a stranger.

And the stranger waved back.

It hit me then. I hadn’t realized our waves had stopped in the city until that very moment. That wave brought me back all that we were driving towards. To the calm I feel out here. The connectedness.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some city time. I love the art and the culture and the variety and sometimes the anonymity but I also love predictability. Friendly familiar faces. I love the wide-open spaces and the feeling of being known, even by strangers. That simple wave, that automatic reflex reminded me of the goodness and the simplicity that sweet gesture makes me feel.

Yet as the week has passed since we’ve been home I’ve pondered: does the act of waving have to live in such a dichotomy? Is it a Venn Diagram with an empty center circle or am I creating this image? In the last month, I’ve done more online shopping from our tiny cabin in the woods than I’d like to due to the sheer fact that I can’t just pop on over to any store to get what I need. I’ve brought the metropolis to me (my aching wrists can vouch for this). Further, while in Anchorage, I saw Steelhead swimming upstream in the most relatable of struggles: life. I walked in the woods by simply stepping off concrete and our pup bathed in waters minutes from our home away from home.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, Sockeye Salmon

Can you spot the Salmon?

 

The city finds the woods and the woods are found in the city. They aren’t that separate after all.

It’s easy to feel solo in the city, to feel like your anonymous life doesn’t impact others. To sit in your car facing forward and never make eye contact. I’ve done it. I did it for a week straight. I shifted into city mode. Yet the reality is, we are all humans, always, anywhere, despite the veneer a city can provide to make us forget. And, of course, if I lived in the city I would have my familiar faces and places, I would have my people I waved to.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that our people are everywhere. In the city, in the woods. We are all impacting one another.

So why not throw up a little wave wherever you might be? Maybe at first, it’s small, maybe at first, it’s infrequent. Maybe you get strange looks but in the end, I think the benefit will outlast the output.

I’ll try it if you will.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis Back to the Wave 08-12-19, McCarthy Alaska

Hello and goodbye to the sun

 

Speaking of waves, this gal is giving a momentary wave “Goodbye” until after our wedding dust has settled. So, until then I bid you adieu, with a wave, of course.