Or at least that’s what they say and since I normally write about 3,000 here are three pictures to sum up our last two weeks (and a few bonus words to boot!):
First and foremost, Ollie got to meet his first set of grandparents! Even after two days of travel on both ends and an almost entirely socked in (grey days) trip, they still were smiling and so was our little dude. It was so wonderful to see him interact with others and to see him through their eyes. What a treat!
Secondly, Ollie had his first babysitting experience and first bottle! Hello freedom! While this does afford me more freedom, I have to say, I’m not exactly craving it BUT I know it’s important for both of us so I’m excited to keep doing it (and grateful for the help, Auntie BB!).
Lastly, I finally admitted that I could not handle the pain of “Mother’s Thumb” and went back to wearing my super impractical with a baby Hot Topic style brace (and finally made doctors appointments ), hence the length of this post.
In 5th grade, one of my favorite songs was Monica’s “Just One of Them Days”. I’d belt it out full on diva style and my best friend would lip sync and dance to it in the mirror. We thought we were so cool and the song gave us all the feels. I mean, who can’t relate. Sometimes, it’s just one of them days.
Today? One of them days. One of them days where it’s cloudy (again), and even though you’re basically main lining vitamin D, the supplements are just not doing it for you.
One of them days where the generator can’t seem to stay on and every time you go out to fix it, you return, smelling of exhaust, to an unhappy infant and have to change clothes faster than a model during fashion week.
One of them days where your to do list involved all things interwebs but the dang thing just won’t work.
One of them days where you wanted things to be “just so” in your house before company arrived and you realize it will be closer to mayhem than made up.
One of them days where the car is low on fuel and there’s none to be found and all you “need” is to take a drive.
One of them days where you decide…screw it. I’m sitting this one out.
Sometimes when you keep pushing the rock up the hill to no avail, you have to just step aside and let it roll down, to be retrieved another day. Maybe tomorrow! And once you sit down and stop pushing you realize…damn, even with all that, things are still darn good.
Cheers to the Mondays that are on steroids, the rocks that won’t budge, the days that are just those days.
Once the internet starts working again, I’m blasting some Monica. Until then? I think I’ll just plant myself in a rocking chair with a babe on my chest and do my best to just rock with this day.
Back in college, I remember reading Travels with Charley and falling in love with the idea of the road trip. I was living on the East Coast but not fitting into the suit it required. This, however, this meandering seeking for soul, felt real to me. At the age of 17, I had been on a few road trips, but most were short stints, weekend trips to “visit prospective colleges” (aka check out the party scene and get an obscene speeding ticket). No, the open road had never stretched out in front of me and after diving into the good book, I was chomping at the bit to partake in my own dog-by-my-side travels.
Throughout my teens and twenties, I dipped my toes into road-tripping and fell in love with the unknown the journeys provided. What would happen? Who would I meet? All questions unknown, soon to be answered. Fast forward to the end of my twenties and enter Alaska where suddenly the idea of a road trip took on a whole other meaning. What used to seem like an eon in the car was suddenly just a trip to the grocery store. 8 hours? Nothing. 16 hours in a weekend? Bring it on.
Just like how a “hike” in AK (an all-day event complete with vertigo-inducing heights, scrambling up scree, dirty from head to toe) doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in CA (medium terrain, snacks at the top, back down in time for Happy Hour. Heck, it can even just mean a walk, nowadays), what I would have called a road trip (anything over 2 hours in the car) is suddenly just a trip.
However, due to my love of roadtrips, I easily became comfortable with the new meaning an 8-hour drive and treated them as adventures. What would happen? Who would I meet? Countless things, countless people. Some drives I’ve started in the company of an acquaintance and finished with a newfound friend. Some I’ve spent alone, in complete and much needed silence, just me and the road. I’ve had Travels with Leto, Travels with The Chief, Travels with girlfriends and new friends and now…
Hooooooey! If I didn’t think Alaska amped things up a notch before, I certainly do now. Enter: roadtripping with a newborn, Alaska style (aka a Town Run).
There are 24 hours in a day, but apparently, there can be 24 hours in a roadtrip (one that normally takes 16 hours).
I had an inkling. I’d done the drive before with a 6-month old and there were LOTS of stops but decided to up the ante with a nearly 2-month-old (tomorrow!).
So, how’d it go? A little like this:
Monday through Wednesday: Prep for Town (which is turns out is A LOT slower when you have a newborn strapped to your chest. I didn’t realize how often I bend down until I started trying to avoid squatting an extra 13 fidgeting pounds. It’s difficult, it turns out.
Wednesday evening: Have the typical What time should we shoot to leave tomorrow? conversation. My vote was to wake up extra early and bail…
Thursday morning: I was up by 6 am with the baby to address his requests: Milk! Diaper! Milk! Diaper! Smiley play time! Milk! Milk! The Chief slept in (after two straight weeks of 13 hour days) until 8 am and…we were off, right?!
By noon, however, we were off! The road out, our 60 mile driveway, if you will, normally clocks in at about 2 hours. By 4 pm we had made it to the end. This was due to be a long day. Had we thought about introducing a bottle pre-trip? We sure hadn’t! Did we wish we had? We sure did! Just before the clock struck midnight that night, we tucked into bed in Anchorage. We’d already done one load of laundry.
Welcome to Town.
Friday: The next morning, we were up early again and off to doctors appointments but not before making the rookie mistake that would plague us all day: we didn’t eat breakfast. By 9 am we were at the midwife and…hungry. By the end of the appointment, we decided Leto needed a stroll. We’d get food afterwards. One lake walk (I made it all the way around for the first time since Ollie was born!) + one bathroom mission + feeding the baby later and suddenly…it was time for our next appointment.
Still no food. We raided the diaper bag snacks. Jerky for breakfast anyone?
At the next appointment, it turned out that my wrist problem was an actual problem and they wanted to get me into a specialist that day. Our day of 3 appointments suddenly turned into 4. Oh joy! Oh boy. After scrambling to set up this new appointment and schedule an earlier time for Ollie’s checkup there was no time again for…you guessed it! Food. By this point it was late afternoon. Off we went to the pediatrician. After a battery of boohooo inducing shots (actually, he did quite well. A few tears quickly resolved by a little cuddling and a lot of milk) it was finally time for FOOOOOOOD! We ordered and ate as we drove to the next appointment at which they suggested I go to one more appointment that day for my problem wrist. By then it was 5 pm.
By the time we got home, we’d been gone for nearly 10 hours. Thankfully, we’d had a few hours left with our post-birth helper and she did our ENTIRE Costco run for us. We wouldn’t have made it that day. She also brought in a haul of garden goodies. After everything was packed away and processed and everyone was fed, Ollie, ever the champ, was ready to settle in after his pokey procedure, leaving The Chief to manage the remaining chores.
Saturday: Up early, out early, right? You know the drill by now and so do we but somehow we thought we might escape the time suck that is packing up and hitting the road. A little before 11 am we exited Anchorage and again, the first 6 hours of the drive were pretty rocky. We stopped to nurse which turned into a diaper change, which turned into multiple diaper changes and back to nursing and finally back to the road. One stop was over an hour yet back on the road we ventured and by early evening Ollie was ready for a long snooze. Off and on he slumbered all the way home as we pulled in the drive at 11 pm.
As it turns out, just because you make it home, doesn’t mean you’ve made it home scot-free. The next few days we paid for our expeditious adventure with newborn wails of a timber we hadn’t yet heard. The Chief also received his first phone call from us at work where we were both crying. Oh joy! Needless to say, it was a rough week but as the distance grew between us and our covered distance, things mellowed, patterns returned, lessons were…learned?
We will see. I still haven’t decided which was the lesser of two evils: doing a Town Run with only one day to run about Town or returning home and having The Chief return to work the next morning. Both are unweildy options. Both are the options we have.
So, Travels with Charley? I’d give an 8 out of 10. I don’t remember thinking the prose was as poetic as his other works but it inspired me and that’s nothing to ignore. Travels with Ollie? Ten out of ten, all the way.
Ten?! Reallllllly, Julia? Ridiculous.
OK, OK, in the moment, in the Crying So Hard He’s Turning New Shades Of Red I Haven’t Seen Before moment, sure, in that moment I’m wondering if I can give it a rating below 0. But overall, it was one of those Alaska moments. One of those longer, harder, rockier “hikes” than planned but the one that left you feeling accomplished and adventurous and…just a smidge insane. I think those are pretty solid components to a good life. And now that it’s done, I know that we can do it. Am I looking forward to the next time? In a way, yes (OK maybe that’s the insane portion speaking a little too loudly). But honestly, I love bringing Ollie into our fold and creating memories with him on a journey I’ve traveled umpteen times without him, dreaming of him someday coming to be. It’s not always easy, this life of ours, but it is rewarding. Remind me of that next time the baby cries himself crimson.
Seven years in the woods. Seven years in love. Seven years I just realized we forgot to celebrate.
Sure, when you get married there’s the debate of “should we really celebrate our dating anniversary still?” to which I have always responded, “Um…heeeeccck yes!”. I love a good celebration and…why not? There’s enough craziness in this world, we should make sure to stop and appreciate the good.
In addition to our 7 years together, this year also holds with it the gift of Saturn. Saturn returns. Every 7 or so years, life just seems to get realllllly real. People get married, divorced, babies are born, houses are bought, moves are made. Big things. Life things.
This round of Return has obviously brought with it a huge, beautiful change and it has me feeling extra nostalgic.
Since coming home with our little, it’s as if I’m simultaneously seeing this place with old and new eyes. The magic of this place feels renewed. As I look around our consistently improving house, I see where this brand new life began. I look to the corner that used to house a mess of a desk in the middle of the kitchen that now holds a real refrigerator (that’s even stocked with vegetables!).
I look at our bedroom, now downstairs so we can all be together as a family. I look out to our porch and almost miss for a moment the Ramp of Doom.
Almost. I think back to my first night at this bachelor pad and marvel at how far we’ve come and how unlikely it was that we ever came together in the first place.
As I enjoy this summer from more of the sidelines than ever before, I see how so many things have come full circle and this view brings with it a lot of gratitude and a little bit of disbelief. Is this real life? Did the perma-bachelor and the determined to be single traveler really make it work? Not without trials and troubles but…my answer is resoundingly “yes”. Sure, this (non-existent) anniversary looks a lot different from years past but it’s beautiful in its own right. Life has been busier than ever and so I take a moment to pause and give thanks.
From one Saturn Returns to the next and to many, many more together. I choose you. Happy very belated anniversary.
With love, always,
P.S. 7 year anniversaries also mean this blog has existed that long. Whether you’ve just joined or have been there since the start, thank you. I am so honored to have you come along on this journey.
As I type this, I have one hand holding our babe and one hunting and pecking her way through the QWERTY-verse. Coming from a Mavis Beacon graduate (where my elder Millennials at?!) this is a sorry excuse for the flying fingers I’d unleash upon the keyboard just 30 days ago. Still, it’s a drastic improvement from my previous postpartum post. In this last month, I’ve come to learn about this little human I’ve spent the better part of a year growing as well as a few other lessons like…
I’ve spent the entire day trying to open my computer to write to you. Our child has had other plans.
The two words I’ve hoped to utter for so very long. He has finally arrived. All 7 pounds, 11.5 ounces of him came into this world 11 days ago tonight. His birth was so fast we almost greeted him at home but luckily made it to the center just in time. Up he came out of the tub and into our arms, wailing immediately until we locked eyes. Curious and kind right from the start. We are head over heels for our little Oliver, Ollie for short. I can’t wait to share more with you.
Last night I awoke from a dream with a startle. Tomorrow was Monday. Monday was the beginning of the workweek. Did I have any meetings I had forgotten to prep for? Did I have any first thing To-Dos I needed to prioritize?
I didn’t and I don’t because, for the first time since I started working, I haven’t been to work in weeks. Any meetings I used to attend will be held without me and any To-Dos will get done in the fall when I return. So why the worry?
Perhaps because today is our babe’s “due date”. The start of the biggest project we’ve ever endeavored upon and certainly the wildest adventure and the countdown clock has now rung out. “Today is the day”, it announces.
Yet so far, today isn’t the day. In the last two weeks, however, there have been a few days that certainly felt as if they might be. The first week The Chief was gone, I was awoken multiple nights by strong contractions and back pain. “Oh, please not yet. Unless you need to” I thought to myself as I breathed through the discomfort and started to calculate if and when to call The Chief, and then…nothing.
A few days and a few false starts later, The Chief was back home with us, and we visited our midwives. Things were looking good. It could be any minute now…
Near the end of the week, things started to really get moving, enough to start looking at a clock and timing the party my uterus was throwing. It was also our moving day. As I looked around at the bags packed and to be packed, the many things to be moved I whispered “Not today, unless you need to” to our little bean. Another contraction. I busied myself with the moving shuffle and by the end of the day, things had slowed down again.
Yesterday, we settled in, nestling into our newest and thankfully last nest until we return home.
Some sweet friends delivered us dinner (you are the best!) and we paused to enjoy the wonderfully Alaskan meal of salmon and salad goodness.
It was amazing and so nourishing after days of half-hearted meals made out of necessity rather than excitement. My belly has been up and down and all around and I’ve pretty much subsisted on a fussy toddler diet of beans and cheese and rice which hasn’t exactly been inspiring for someone who loves food as much as I do. We decided to call it quits on settling in for the night and settled on a movie and…the contractions started again.
Yet here we are this morning, babe still in belly and…I’m OK with that. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from different weekly subscriptions with the general sentiment of “Is this over yet???”. Sure, I’ll agree that the last few weeks are uncomfortable (hello flattened feet! Hello nausea and cramping and sleepy but sometimes sleepless nights) but as of now, I’m still happy to be the host (and to fully unpack) and to take our last waddles around the lake as a family of three, anticipating becoming a family of four.
Only time will tell just what day and what time our little one will arrive. Until then, I’ll be here, watching for signs, checking in on times, and riding the wave.
Life is a mountain of milestones, isn’t it? As kiddos, we’re always grasping for that next accomplishment. When riding a trike was once a herculean task, now we set our sight on two wheels. When sleeping at home was the norm, we try for a sleepover. When going to the movies used to be a family affair, suddenly we’re meeting our friends and embarrassed of our parents as they drop us off. These changes, these stages and jumps in time, happen so fast and once we move forward, we rarely move back into the past from whence we came. We are changed, we are changing and we are always looking to the next challenge.
Looking back on the last two weeks, so much has changed…
The Chief celebrated another waltz around the sun (and I learned that one should never bake having just oiled one’s pregnant belly. Cocoa powder explosions are simply an inevitability and cocoa paste does oil and powder make).
“We” (AKA I orchestrated and The Chief did all the moving) moved our bed downstairs, which meant ratchet strapping it burrito style and shoving it through the hatch in the floor (during a work call where I could not stop myself from laughing and so felt it was only fair to turn my video around to show the bed debacle).
I had my last day at work (cue the Hallelujah chorus!) preceded by a surprise virtual baby shower (thank you!).
At which point baby prep began…
And so did packing up to leave for X amount of months. “How long will you be in Anchorage?” I keep getting and continually ask myself to which I answer “No idea”. If I’ve learned anything during this being preggo process it’s that I have no idea what’s coming next and planning is only a possibility so long as you leave room for a million variations. So, I packed for who knows how long which was totally not stressful. When my Mom asked me how it was going, I sent her this:
The Chief too was feeling the pressure, enough to go gray in an instant:
I shifted from not wanting to leave home at all to feeling very ready to leave the punchy snow (and distant medical care) behind. I guess that will happen when you’re 9 months pregnant and falling up to your knees in snow on the way to the outhouse each morning.
We moved to Anchorage, which meant caravaning with The Chief for the 8-hour drive and getting in at 9 pm to a new and unfamiliar home. Leto immediately got familiar.
We arrived in Anchorage to a whirlwind of appointments and appointing a new home with everything we’d need for the next however long. We met with our midwives and our doulas, we handled baby business our too busy schedules hadn’t allowed for, we found a pediatrician and FINALLY installed the car seat and packed (mostly) our Go Bags for Go Time.
The baby prep continued…
And so did the celebrations…
And I spent my first Mother’s Day ever getting pampered by a dear friend while feeling the kicks of our baby. I also spent it realizing that my Mom and I would forever share this day in an entirely new way from here on out.
Most importantly, I finally bought sweatpants (I kid, I kid…sort of).
Two weeks ago, we were celebrating the birth of my love with friends who live only footsteps away. We nestled in at home (with a working shower!) after our last Town Trip and in full-on Go Mode to get everything done in one week’s time. Two weeks later, I find myself alone in a house I’m still learning, in a neighborhood where my closest friend is miles instead of a few steps away. Alone? The Chief had to start work this week in order to more easily take leave for the birth and so the week starts with our separating, again.
Two weeks ago, the reality of our kiddo’s impending arrival felt distant. Two weeks later, it feels MUCH more real as the tasks at hand begin to dwindle and the biggest task yet of giving birth lies ahead of us. I can’t imagine being back to two weeks ago, to feeling less focused on birth and more focused on our house and two weeks from now…I can’t even imagine. Perhaps we will be celebrating another birthday. Who knows?
What we do know? In the next two weeks we will move again (because we are geniuses like that), thankfully within Anchorage this time. The Chief will return and we will reunite once more, until we have to separate once more. And every day we will be closer to meeting this little being who has been simultaneously so known to us and such a mystery. Other than that, I can only guess what the next two weeks will bring. Perhaps a babe, perhaps more waiting (which is fine by me, especially until The Chief arrives). The future holds its cards close to its chest and so we simply take the next step, every day…
Wishing you and yours lots of luck in your next steps, whatever they may be.
P.S. For realsies though…who knows what the next two weeks will offer but…as two weeks from now I’ll be 100, I mean, 40 weeks pregnant, there’s a chance you won’t hear from me right away. Then again, perhaps you will. Either way, I’ll update the blog as soon as possible…
I’m a water baby. If there’s a body of water nearby, my body wants to be in or around it. Label it the siren’s call to the substance we are mostly made of. Blame it on the zodiac (I am a water sign) or rule it without reason completely. Either way, there’s something in me that craves to be near the element. Growing up and until moving to Alaska, water was my north star. Wherever I was, I oriented against it using the ocean. I always knew west, I always knew home.
Upon moving to Alaska, all of that changed. I did a lot of looking at water, rather than leaping into it. Glacially fed rivers and swimming holes were my watery haunts yet I rarely dove in (at least, not on purpose). I oriented myself by the river that roughly traveled North + South to decipher East + West and again my home fell into that orientation but it wasn’t quite the same. It took me a while to get my bearings, hell, I still am. Alaska is enormous, the landscape constantly changing, and gathering perspective is like looking at a painting close up (read: you rarely can see the big picture).
Before moving to Alaska, my favorite way to start my day was with a nice hot shower. I’d come out bright as a beet from the heat and lavish on lotions and potions aplenty in my steamy bathroom. Little did I know that this daily ritual would turn into a true treat in an instant. Upon arriving in Alaska, I was greeted with endless water. Unlike the near-drought (now drought) California I was leaving, there was water everywhere yet somehow, showers, my church, my moment for rejuvenation, were suddenly a luxury.
I did not sign up for this.
I remember going to The Bar one of those first nights in Alaska and someone saying “Wow, did you just shower? Smell her! She smells great.” Granted, I had just showered and my girlfriend’s shampoo was delicious but this noticing of what I deemed a natural daily occurrence had flipped my world. Everyone commented on how lucky I was to stay where I was staying, a shower every day, if I dared. I didn’t. Luxurious as it was by comparison, it was still an outdoor shower and despite summer’s march to the neverending beat of the sun, mornings were chilly. On the colder mornings, I opted for birdbaths in the comfort of the cabin some days. Always, on the days I didn’t, on the days I braved the chill for the comfort of a hot shower with a view, someone always commented. “Did you just shower?” It cracked me up. What was this place?
Within a month I had adopted the local vernacular. “You smell great! Did you just shower?” I’d find myself saying. What had I turned into? A woman of the woods, it seemed. When I moved (read: suddenly realized I was living with a man I’d just met) into The Chief’s house, he had a shower as well…and a well. I had fallen in with a bougie bunch, it seemed. Having a well meant water every day if I wanted it. All I had to do was gas up the generator, carry the 50-pound sucker to the well, fire it up, inevitably troubleshoot it when it wouldn’t start, and fill the 50-gallon drum that was our shower reservoir. Easy peasy. Sort of. While I did find myself in the shower more days than not, it wasn’t quite the same as the steamy showers of merely a month before in California. My life had done a solid one-eighty. Everything had changed and…for the most part, I accepted those changes with open-ish arms. I adapted. It turns out we are more pliant than we think, especially when we are in love.
But then, come winter, the adaptations began again and this time, they were a little more drastic.
Shower? Sure! All you have to do is: Step 1: Think ahead (this step was often forgotten and another day would fly by without a shower). Make sure to have filled all the water in the house, defrosted the bathing bin and get the house nice and toasty. For those three things, there’s about 15 steps total and a whole lot of forethought. Needless to say, this step was thwarted often.
Step 2: If everything in Step 1 was satisfied, move on to Step 2: Find the step stool, balance upon it as you lift the stairs, and secure them over your head.
Step 3: Use the aforementioned stool to hang the shower curtain and protective black plastic sheeting so your house and pantry aren’t drenched by your endeavor.
Step 4: Realize you forgot something upstairs. Undo Step 2. Gather your goodies. Repeat Steps 2-3.
Step 5: Kick up the heat! The fire has somehow died down in what feels like the 5 minutes you’ve been prepping your shower (probably more like an hour). Go outside, chop wood, bring it in and stoke the fire.
Step 6: Recalibrate. What the hell was I doing? Oh yea, showering.
Step 7: Prep your space: get all your shower goodies and put them nearby (don’t forget your towel).
Step 8: Shower military-style (I don’t know when we adopted this term but I’m not sure it really applies): water on, water off. Suds up. Water on. Water off. Shampoo. Water on. Water off…you get the drill.
Step 9: Dry off and dump the water. Hopefully, you were judicious in your use of agua or you’re about to be hauling a hefty load, my friend (or, in my case, co-hauling with The Chief).
Step 10: Wait for the shower curtains and bathing bin (read: a Rubbermaid storage tote) to dry. Put them away.
These Steps 1-10 can span days and so, sometimes, can your bathing routine. Showering once a week in the winter out here is heroic and despite how this cadence failed to meet my CA expectations, I was always brought down to AK earth when someone would mention and point “She has a shower” and everyone would oooohhhh and ahhhhh. It’s all about perspective, I guess.
And still, sometimes that perspective shifts. When we decided to start our addition, we didn’t realize that we had also started a whole new project (read: baby on board) and so our focus was on one thing: amenities. Yes, it had come time, time for a year-round shower. No outdoor shower for half of the year, spanning from frozen showers in the spring to frozen feet in the fall. No more hoping the system wouldn’t break (and being disappointed multiple years when it did due to an unanticipated freeze). No more set-up and takedown from inside to outside. No more hours or days-long winter Steps 1-10. Nope. Permanence, my friends.
The project started last fall and just this week I am happy to report I took my first ever on-demand shower in our house.
To say that it felt amazing is an understatement. I cried tears of joy the whole time as I laid down in the tub (the tub!) and let the water cascade down upon me. Did we come by the shower easily? Heck no. Did The Chief have to do endless research, make countless calls, and search for parts near and far? Did it work and then need tweaking and surprise us with hurdles unanticipated?
Of course it did! It was construction (in remote Alaska nonetheless), there are never any certainties. But one thing is certain now: we have a shower, shoot, we have a bathtub, and I am in heaven. And for the first time ever, we left Anchorage with excitement in our hearts to return to our shower instead of savoring every last second in the shower in Town. Our shower.
While our human addition grows within me, our house addition grows before my eyes and I have become ever more in awe of the man I married. From the ground up, he’s created for us a whole new reality. One of brightness and ease and luxuries large and small. It hasn’t always been easy but it certainly has been worth it. Together, we’ve divided and conquered, taking on the tasks most in our wheelhouse, both adding on to our family as we go, I with our babe in my belly, he with hammer in hand.
It’s wild how life can change, how perspective can shift, and how the things we took most for granted can become pure opulence. I am still a water baby, always will be, but I have a different appreciation for that water than ever before and I’m grateful for that shift. Despite growing up with it, I hope our little nugget will appreciate it too. If he forgets, I know our town will remind him how lucky he is every time he wanders into Town freshly showered.
With love (and running water),
P.S. Today mark’s a special day, The Chief’s birthday. Happiest of birthdays to you, my love. We are so lucky you were born.
Sometimes, I feel a little like an anthropologist in our back and forth life. How do people live? What are the customs in this new land? What are the social graces and faux pas to learn? After a certain amount of time away, each new locale, even one as familiar as my childhood home or as my home in Alaska, feels like a whole new adventure and with that, a whole new learning curve. And so, we investigate, we learn, we stumble a bit, we right ourselves, and eventually, it’s off to the next adventure, the next learnings.
California: After landing in California, I had to remember how to drive over 65 miles per hour, and learn traffic patterns (i.e. don’t try to drive between 3 and 6 pm). I re-discovered that Farmer’s Markets happen year-round (wooooohoooo!!!), and that winter has a whole other meaning the farther south you go (hello tank tops in November!).
I felt the sheer joy of being 30 minutes instead of 4-8 hours from a doctor when I needed one and the ease that was everything medical, comparatively. I also remembered how expensive CA life can be and how gratifying creating and sticking to a budget feels.
Alaska: Since my return to Alaska a few weeks ago, I’ve had to re-learn quite a bit as well. Most of my sentences have been littered with “Do you know where X is?” and re-discovering my systems.
Why did I have empty space there (a luxury no one has)? Oh, right, because it was still “warm” when we left and I was using it as a cool place to store fruit. Now, it’s too cold. Time for the winter version of that space: non-freezable goods. I’ve also had to remember how to walk on slick surfaces (and learn this as a different version of myself who really, reallllllly doesn’t want to fall), how to drive in snow, how to be patient when everything takes longer than expected and…that AK life can be damn expensive as well. There have been lessons aplenty and my knowledge gap is still there but the best thing I’ve remembered from our life here has been neighbors.
In the last place I stayed in California, my friend had a truly sweet little ‘hood full of best buds within walking distance of one another. They would cruise to one another’s houses to drop off goodies, help one another, play hoops or catch in the street. It was really sweet and also something I personally hadn’t experienced all that often in my life in CA. Don’t get me wrong, I have a super sweet group of friends. We would spend our holidays together, we vacationed together, dropped in on one another when we were close by but…we weren’t super close by. All of us were at least 15 minutes away by car.
Here, I’m footsteps away and boy did I miss walking those paths. In our little ‘hood live three households of our best friends, all within a 3-minute walk of one another. Despite being way out here, we are tucked into a community of close-knit comrades and the intimacy this juxtaposition breeds of being so far away from society yet so close to one another is pretty amazing.
For instance, right now we have two dogs: our pup Leto and our nephew Kudo. I love that instead of leaving the Valley, little KuKu gets to stay here with us while his pops is working down south. No one expects him to be boarded with people and pups he doesn’t know (not that there’s anything wrong with that and not to say that he wouldn’t be thrilled), we all just pitch in to make sure he’s well taken care of. We will have him for a few weeks and then when we move to Anchorage the next neighbors will start their round of care.
And that’s a huge part of our days here: taking care of one another. Don’t get me wrong, you have to be self-sufficient to survive the 180’s of life in the woods. Yet the hard here also facilitates a closeness, a breaking down of the normal barriers and that builds an intimacy I truly love. Sometimes it’s as small as sending someone home with one of your last pieces of fruit because you know they’re low too or doing loops around your neighbors yard to give them easy access to their house when it’s been snowing and they’ve been out of town. Sometimes it’s as big as your friend snowmachining down a frozen river to your house every day to drywall and paint (and even clean) before you come home. From small to large and every variation in-between of borrowing a cup of sugar to borrowing a vehicle, there’s a closeness here, a softness bred out of the hard.
Yesterday, while in full-on nesting mode (read: I pulled the entire living room apart and dusted, scrubbed for 8 hours straight) I realized I was down to my last pair of skivvies. Not a good look. It would have taken me hours to get (read: find) our little washer, haul and heat water and get through 10 pairs. Plus, it would have greatly delayed my top to bottom scrub-a-thon. The solution? Neighbors to the rescue! Off I trudged with my bag over my shoulder and our still slightly frozen detergent in hand. 40 minutes and a quick walk-n-talk with my girlfriend later, we returned to her house and a load of laundry, freshly clean. Heaven.
After months of being gone, I still do feel like an anthropologist somedays. I forget that when I suggest we take a Sunday Drive it will mostly consist of me white-knuckling my way through, supporting my bouncing belly as The Chief navigates the icy terrain that are our roads. Not the windows-down-let’s-look-at-(the nonexistent) wildflowers-spring-vibe I was going for. I re-learn not to take power and water and food for granted. I remember just how much dust a woodstove can produce but also how absolutely delicious it is to sit in front of on a chilly morning with a book. Slowly but surely I’m remembering the ways and bringing back with me newfound findings from the exotic Lower 48 (like the fact that oat milk is delicious and a little amount of pampering goes a long way). But my favorite (re-)discovery so far has certainly been our little neighborhood and the neighbors within it. Nestled amongst the trees, tucked into the far away wilderness, lies a closeness I’ve always craved. It’s good to be home.