2018

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Anchorage Museum AK

Small Commitments

It turns out that the decision to say “Yes” is, in fact, the doorway through which one passes into the Narnia of endless decisions. Did I say Narnia? Perhaps, it depends on the mood. At times it feels more like a battlefield. Cake? Love it. Finding a cake vendor? Bleh. Boring. Tasteless. Never thought of it. Trying cake, on the other hand, sounds amazing. Point being, the first decision to say “I do” is just the beginning (albeit the most important decision of the bunch. The companion decisions pale in comparison, yet I’ve heard and I’ve seen them aim to carry the same amount of weight. Yet they just can’t, no matter how delicious.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments City Museum St. Louis MO

Rows of decisions already made (City Museum, St. Louis, MO)

 

The reasons they start to gain weight and demand presence is somehow lost on me but present for all those I know who have danced the aisle before me. Where does this pressure come from and how does one avoid it?

I say this because I, Julia “Pancake” Page, tried on wedding dresses the other day and I can say with utter honesty: I’ve never given one thought to what I’d wear on the day I married my person. Perhaps it’s because I was weary I’d never find him – and had I known he was hidden 8 hours outside of Anchorage in a small town in Alaska, almost absconded from the world via long dirt roads and Winters of solitude, I might have felt even wearier – but find him I did, and now, lest I appear at the wedding day naked, clothe myself I must.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Wedding AK

The perfect squash blossom boquet.

 

The first of many small commitments posing grandly before me.

“How do you mean?” you ask.

Well, have you ever seen the show Say Yes to the Dress? Back in the day, when I used to have television, I would occasionally happen upon said show. The premise: person enters with family and friends to find the “perfect” dress. Said person deals with “oohs” and “ahhs” among “no’s” and “yes’s” and eventually often wraps up the episode in a tidy bow of saying “yes” to the dress. Now, reality television, as I have experienced first-hand while living here is often, let’s just say, dramatized. The tense music leading up to a decision, the be all end all of every decision is often fabricated but in the case of the dress show, I’m not sure they had to manufacture anything. It builds itself. Even in my intimate environment that day, with a saleswoman who really didn’t crank up the sales talk all that loudly, I still felt the be all end all feeling. Which now, so far away, sounds silly but in the moment of “Shall we order this?” and thinking of alterations and fittings and all the things I hadn’t factored in…it gets my palms to perspire.

Thankfully, a cocktail hour followed by a late night after-hours stroll with my friends (who have been my friends since before we all hit double digits) complete with ducking and hiding from the park guard and all, a la 5th grade, really brushed off the stress of the day. And don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful day, but it was also eye-opening on how fast the wedding ponies can go and then suddenly, they run away with you.

Yet, this was just one of the many commitments to come. The smalls that feel big.

The smalls started growing as the ever-expanding possibilities of commitments opened up before us:

Was there a theme?

A color scheme?

A flower?

A bridal shower?

How tall would my heels be?

Would there be a signature cocktail or three?

Would I shrink or expand and ruin any alterations?

What to wear.

How to do hair.

The makeup.

The things.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments Anchorage Museum AK

Choices, choices, choices.

 

Things that I’d never thought of and wasn’t sure I cared about. Food? Yes. Hair? I’d always just done it myself. Makeup? Same. Food. Yes. Did I say that already? Well, double “yes”.

Suddenly, the things started barging into our little wedding and once they did, it seemed as if they were growing.

The small commitments had found their way in and they were like multiplying monkeys let loose in a museum.

Utter mayhem.

Thankfully, the first commitment brought me back, by way of a late-night call to my one and only. In the humid warmth of a St. Louis summer eve, his words sunk into me, lulling me from the small commitments back into our grand, beautiful treaty: our lives, together, always. Between the warm Midwestern night with its gentle breezes whispering of Fall and the lull of The Chief’s strong, gentle baritone, I felt our love wrap around me, shielding me from the small commitments.

What mattered most was at the other end of that phone line.

 

Beneath the Borealis Small Commitments The Chief

My moon, my man.

 

While that realization was true, I still couldn’t sleep that night. Were we to elope and bid “Adieu” to tradition or hold a grand double header wedding? Our already highly untraditional life gave no sort of outline and my somewhat traditional self didn’t know what or where to hold on and what or where to let go.

The thing is, I am those two opposite ends: traditional and non-traditional. My life consists of ends of the spectrum so far from one another they need passports just to meet in the middle. We go from outhouses and cold (sometimes) running water to bathtubs easily filled to the brim with bubbling goodness and endless electricity. I go from wearing clothes that are always dirty to clothes that almost feel too clean. We don’t go over 30 mph for months and suddenly, we are whizzing about 5 lanes of traffic going a “moderate” 75 mph.

The dichotomous nature of our life is so unbelievably representative of my inner natures that I couldn’t have planned it better myself but sometimes, the inconsistency is jarring. Nevertheless, it keeps me on my toes.

And so, barefoot in Alaska, heeled in California, we aim to find the perfect compromise. Something that feels like us, despite our constantly changing nature.

Perhaps we will plan away, perhaps we will simply go with the wind. Either way, the most important commitment rings true:

Every day I say “yes” to you.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Chief and the Scribe Take a Drive Alaskan Firefighters

Yes, please.

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Kennicott River

Swimming

In Alaska, I’ve had to learn a new language. It’s one I didn’t know I didn’t speak and certainly didn’t know existed until I stumbled into it. The focus of my learning has been less on dialect or accent and more on meaning. Take, for example, the word “hike”. To me, coming from California, I considered myself a pretty good hiker. I’d go off on my own for a few hours, traversing the mountain lion, rattlesnake filled fields and feeling very brave along the way. That was a hike. In Alaska, or at least in my neck of the woods, a hike may mean something very different. My first “hike” in Alaska turned into an 8-hour day, for which I was neither in shape nor mentally prepared. I came back feeling like I had gone through a battle. I had gone through an Alaskan “hike”.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Kennicott glacier Alaska

A “hike”. Ice climbing was just a quick add-on.

 

 

Another example is the word “cold”. California cold is anything colder than 50 degrees. Freezing is just insane. “Cold” in Alaska? Let’s just say, during my first winter, when I first experienced a week-long stretch of the negatives (25 degrees below zero, to be precise) that was considered “warm”. When I used the word “cold” to describe how I felt (like someone was sandwiching my fingers and toes and nose between ice cubes) people would downright laugh.

Laugh!

At 25 below zero.

So, needless to say, there’s a lot of play in what means what and to whom and Alaskans just have a different threshold of what’s normal to me.

“Hike”: Anywhere from 4-10 hours

“Cold”: 60 below zero

“Hot”: Anything above 70 degrees

And so, I’ve learned this language as I go along, oftentimes by finding myself in the midst of a situation I thoroughly thought I understood only to realize I was sorely mistaken and highly under-packed in snacks. So, to avoid said misunderstandings, I try to avoid assumptions and never leave the house without at least three other layers, a change of socks, a rain jacket and snacks enough for a half-day endeavor. Therefore, even if I don’t fluently speak the language, at least I might have the tools to survive whatever I’ve gotten myself into.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Hiking Alaska

Another “hike” before I got the terminology down. It was 6 hours long and included a barefoot river crossing and ice climbing through caves.

 

 

The most common area of the Alaskan language that I still find myself tripping over is scale. “Hills” here are what I would consider “mountains” and “creeks” are often what I would deem “river” material. Just the other day, scale popped up again when my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to take a stroll.

Stroll (my definition): a lackadaisical walk, perhaps with ice cream in hand – no, scratch that, definitely with ice cream in hand, in footwear ranging from flip-flops to none at all across even terrain, preferably covered in soft grass, or sand.

Stroll (her definition): a 4-6 hour hike (hiking shoes most definitely required) through a forest, followed by scaling a rocky hillside to a bolder-laden steep peak surrounding a glacial lake far below and eventually ending at another lake requiring sidehilling (read: trying to emulate mountain goats, or in my case, falling with style – or not) and then doing it all in reverse. Call me crazy but this, I would call an “adventure”.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Trundling Alaska.jpg

This is where she wanted to go. My first time to The Toe, with the boys who became brothers.

 

 

So, yeah…a clarification of terms and scale is helpful.

But it’s not always the obvious trip-ups like scale either, sometimes the Alaskan language is a little sneakier.

The other day, when I decided to sign-up for the 3rd annual Women’s Packrafting Clinic, I felt very secure in my decision because I knew what I was going into. There were no unknown Alaskan terms and the conditions of the day were understood. We’d practice some skills, self-rescue techniques and then have an awesome ride down the “creek”, which I knew to be more of what I would consider a “river”. The “creek” was raging from our hot days we’ve finally been having (hallelujah! Welcome, Summer weather. We missed you) but I knew that already. The day would be long but beautiful and I had just enough snacks. No surprises here.

However, I felt a little tingle as my spidey sense alerted me to something that suddenly felt closer to me than I was comfortable with: swimming.

“Swimming” was a verb I felt competent I knew the definition of until moving here. When I first heard it used, no one was smiling, but there I was with a big grin. Swimming! Fun! No, no, silly.  “Swimming” to me conjures up images of pool floaties or Ethel Merman-esque swimming caps. It has a lightness to it, an easy, breezy, “these are the days of our lives” feel to it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Poolside Santa Cruz

Like this. Poolside cocktails with my favorite cookie.

 

 

That definition also exists here but there’s a second “swimming”, the “swimming” I heard where I was smiling solo, a “swimming” which would perhaps be more aptly named “falling out of a boat into a freezing river”. It doesn’t have quite the same ring though, does it? And so, “swimming”, I came to find out, means two things here: fun swimming (smiles included), and potentially scary swimming (less smiley). I opted to stay on the smiley side.

I’ve been packrafting (an awesome sport, check out Alpacka Raft for a look into the wonderful world of bringing your boat wherever you go) a couple of times each Summer here since my first three years ago and it’s a sport with an instantly addictive quality. The Women’s Packrafting Clinic is one of the highlights of the year and since I missed it last year, I was stoked to join in. 35-ish women teaching and learning from one another, packing up boats and hiking a few miles upriver and then boating down? Amazing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Packrafting

First clinic.

 

 

Still though, that spidey sense was kicking. Swimming. I’d never “swum” before and for some reason, it felt like it was knocking on my door. During the freestyle practice time in the local swimming (fun swimming) hole, I did something I normally don’t and I practiced falling out of the boat and self-rescuing. I practiced three times and on the third flip, something tweaked in my neck, sending it immediately into spasm. Oh joy!

A few ibuprofen, some lunch and an hour or so later, the spasming had lessened and I figured my spidey sense would too but there it was. “Careful, Miss Pancakes!” it warned, “You’re going to swim”.

Always listen to your spidey sense.

Perhaps I swam because of that voice in my head. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps, it was simply time. Three years without a spill was starting to get to me. I kept wondering when it would be my time to “swim” and how would it go? The anxiety of its looming inevitability had crept up and so, by my own doing or by pure chance, inevitability finally showed her face.

One moment I was up, the next I was caught on a rock and the next? I was coming up for air, facing the wrong way, flipped to the wrong side, heading face first into Class III rapids.

I was swimming.

Thankfully, instinct and training kicked in and I flipped onto my back and turned myself around, feet first as I rode the next set of rapids while trying desperately to grab my boat. I had managed to hold onto my paddle and used it to the best of my ability to steady myself as I aimed to keep my head above water. It wasn’t going well. Each time the water would go over my head, I’d come up just in time to hit the peak of the next wave and take on more water. I started to panic. I wasn’t getting enough air. I couldn’t see. I was hitting my feet and seat on rocks as I sped through the mid 30’s-degree water. Then, I heard the voices of the women that day.

“If you find yourself swimming, stay calm. Keep your feet up, hold onto your paddle and don’t worry about your boat, worry about your life.”

In that moment, I realized that my attempts to catch the boat were going to be fruitless. As I gave up on rescuing the boat and focused on rescuing myself, I slammed into a rock, coming to a stop as I watched the boat speed away. Slowly, I assessed my surroundings. I was sandwiched between the rock that had caught me and the current that was pushing me into it. Thankfully, it wasn’t so strong that I couldn’t move and so, ever so carefully, I steadied myself to find my way to shore. Foot entrapment was also something we had gone over that morning and as I felt the shifting rocks below me, I again heard the women’s words:

“Slow and steady. People have drowned in even the shallowest water from getting themselves trapped in a mad dash for the shore. Slow down.”

Slowly, steadily, I made it to the shore.

Just then, the rest of the group showed up, saw my predicament and eddied out to help. After they checked in with me with the double “Are you ok” (the first happens immediately, the second comes a few minutes to make sure you’re telling the truth when you reply “yes”) we devised a plan where two of them would scout for the boat and the other would stay with me. Upon their sighting of my craft, I then hiked downriver and they all rafted down. Finally, after bushwhacking along the moose track laden shore for 10 minutes, I caught up.

There they were, my group, waiting with smiles, and my boat (which had beached itself – see, don’t worry about the boat, worry about your life) to greet and congratulate me.

“That was a long swim! Nice work!”

I love those ladies.

The rest of the ride home, I talked myself through the rapids as I always do, pumping myself up as I go and congratulating myself on doing it…

I had finally gone swimming…

and I was exhausted.

Staying afloat in those icy cold waters is no ice cream-toting stroll in the park and the fear that kicks in could tire a horse. Yet thankfully, this pony was headed back to stable.

As I came into town, sleepy and sopping wet, I made my way to our truck to change and regroup. There, under the center console was a cookie, just for me. The Chief had bought me the little treasure earlier that day and I sniffed it out like a kid finding hidden Christmas presents. It was glorious, like a hug from within.

Learning to speak Alaskan has pushed me into situations I might have otherwise wiggled out of. It has coaxed me out of my comfort zone and into the unknown. It has given new meaning to words I thought I knew and still new meaning as I learn what they mean for me. “Swimming” was a word I lived in fear of. When would I swim? How would it go? Learning the word and living the word are two different things and here, there are still so many words I only know the definition of. Yet, despite the bumps and bruises that sometimes come with learning them, I’m excited to add my own stories to my Alaskan dictionary. Cheers to learning a new language, even in the place you call home and to learning a new side of you along the way.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Packrafting Kennicott River

The fabulous K. I always feel good when she’s on the water with me. Plus, she’s got the best drysuit I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Cheers to our very varied definitions of terms and to learning to speak the language of the locals.

Cheers to swimming, in all it’s forms.

 

With love, from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Glacial lake.jpg

I think we can all agree on “beautiful” for this one, eh?

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Back in the Saddle

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by horses. I spent hours in the stables chatting away with my beloved friends, sharing stories and carrots and sometimes just a wee bite of their oat mix. They were my world and to answer the burning question I know must be on your mind, yes, my birthday parties were pony themed and I’m so sorry we didn’t know one another then so that I could have invited you.

Riding horses was my life. However, as any lady or gent of the pony parade knows, riding horses isn’t always about riding. Sometimes, it’s about falling.

From the first time I set foot in the arena to the last, emphasis was always placed on preparing to fall. We practiced finding a safe landing to the inevitable via what my instructor called Flying Dismounts, a special surprise situation we would find ourselves in at least once a lesson. There I’d be, focusing on doing a flying change (where the horse, in mid-air, like the magical beasts they are, switches which foot goes forward first in a canter. Try it, I dare you. I’ve never tripped myself harder) when all of a sudden, my teacher would crack a whip while simultaneously yelling “flying dismount”. The whip would hit the horse in just the right way to break his concentration and buck he would and, ideally, off I would fly, totally in control, landing gently and effortlessly on the ground in one, unharmed, piece.

Ideally.

More often than not, the Flying Dismount looked less like a flight and more like I’d been shot from a catapult aimed straight at the ground. I’d flail through the air and meet the arena soil before I even knew what had happened. Dazed, I’d stand up, find my horse, listen to my instructor’s critiques and pop back into the saddle. I was like those clown faced blow up therapy punching bags that just pop right back up at you after you give them your hardest hit. Pop! There I was.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Julia Sings the Blues (Leggings)

The closest picture I can find of me on horseback, at present. Back in the studio saddle.

 

 

Now, this may seem like a rough lesson for a kiddo but the thing is, riding really can be just as much about falling as it is riding because if you ride enough, you’re bound to fall and when you fall, a little grace never hurt. And so, fall I did, gaining a small bit of grace as the years went on. Back then, the ruling was that in order to be a great rider you had to have 7 non-instructor induced falls and I was quickly making my way towards that magic number.

Once, in a moment lacking, perhaps, my best judgement, I decided to ride a horse in a nearby field whose owner I neither knew, nor consulted. Obviously, the room for disaster was minimal. What could go wrong? A nearby bee heard my confidence and decided to sting said unknown pony in the rear. Ah, I forgot to mention too that it wasn’t just myself I entered into this surefire sob induced drama. I was also “babysitting” a neighbor who was a few years my 8-year old self’s junior. She rode in front of me and for the few minutes we trotted about, it apparently didn’t occur to me to mention the old Flying Dismount maneuver.

Bee in play, horse in panic and us bouncing around uncontrollably like a bunch of pre-teens in their first mosh pit, the outlook wasn’t good. The horse was at deadspeed (as fast as it can go), which for a moment was thrilling since I’d never before reached that elusive speed, until I realized I was not exactly in control of the situation. It was time. “Jump!” I yelled.

It didn’t go well. We both ended in rocky thistle patches and walked the mile home with bloodied knees, elbows and faces, crying at the top of our lungs. Truth be told, I was crying mainly out of fear as the repercussions of my not-so-bright idea came to full clarity and the screams of the kiddo that was my responsibility got louder. I competed with her cries, dead-set on not getting in trouble.

It did not work.

Yet, even that fall, I think perhaps it was number 5 or so, didn’t bother me. It was all part of the game. I was racing towards number 7, hell-bent on getting that badge of honor and fearless in my endeavor.

 

 

43dVH40PQtuXBgURRh5SVg

Pop up, poppy Page

 

 

Until…

the next fall.

The next fall was unintentional, non-teacher induced. It counted and I was closer to my 7 but I didn’t jump for joy because this time, I was unconscious. I had been riding one of the bigger horses, a departure from my favorite white pony named “Killy”. My Thumbelina stature made me feel look like a mouse on an elephant but the power of the horse made me feel powerful too. I went for it, full-bore.

And so did he.

Spooked by something only he could see, he reared up as we rounded one of the four corners of the arena. Feeling very brave, I aimed to stay on. He, aimed for me to dismount.

He won.

Bucking his hardest, I finally lost my grip and went flying into the air, landing headfirst into one of the 16-inch by 16 foot logs that created a barrier in the arena. The last thing I remember was my helmet cracking and the visor snapping off and then?

Darkness.

When I finally came to, the first thing I did was laugh and the first thing I heard was “Time to get back in the saddle. Every good rider has to get back on”.

“Pop on up, buttercup”, I thought to myself as I nervously laughed my way through the pain, but a therapy doll I was no longer. My body wouldn’t let me.

I was terrified.

Thankfully, Mama to the rescue, the lesson ended early. I promised to get back on as soon as I felt better. I just needed rest, I reasoned. But the aching in my head was not what was holding me back. I’d been stepped on and bounced into the ground more times than I could count from lessons and unintentional lessons of falling but I’d never felt that fear. And I’d never failed to get immediately back in the saddle.

Eventually, shortly after, I made my way back in. I rode the horse that had bucked me and made my peace with the fear, but it didn’t leave. It sat beside me, monitoring my movements and dealing me visions of doom. I was back in the saddle, but I had seen the other side and I was changed.

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Goldenrod

 

 

The past few months have dealt The Chief and I more bucks than I thought possible. Every time something else would happen, we’d say “Well, it can’t get any worse than this” and then, it would. Don’t try that tactic, it doesn’t work. And so, we stopped saying it and as thing after thing after thing piled on, we eventually had to laugh our ways back into the saddle. We laughed, not because of the humor in the situations, of which there was none, but because of the sheer shock.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Anchorage Art Museum

The exhibit I unintentionally went to during the ups and downs. Well, that pretty much pins the tail on the donkey, Anchorage Art Museum.

 

 

The Chief and I lost two family members back to back, so fast that we found ourselves in the same funereal attire before it could make it back into the closet. After that, we were continuously kicked while we were down, financially, physically and emotionally. The small things didn’t matter compared to the loss but they made it feel like we would never come up for air. If that horse had trampled me while I had been on the ground, that might have been a close second to how we have felt these past few months that I haven’t written. It’s been a haunting hiatus but also one filled with immense love.

Our little neighborhood has been hit hard this year. A surge of sadness abounds in such a small area and our love for one another links us so that our pain, is theirs and theirs, ours. Yet, we’ve been able to lift one another. While we were gone to California in the familial tailspin, our neighborhood came together to hold us from afar. They tended to our seedlings, watering them and keeping a daily fire in our house to protect them from frost.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bell Pepper Seedlings

Bell pepper from Ali. When a friend brings you a pepper gift, why not try to make her one too?

 

 

They kept our freezer frozen by running our generator. They kept our hearts from splitting from our chests when the struggle to keep them in felt far too great to bear. Those whom we love, from here, from near and from far have found us when floundering and steadied our stride. To our friends and family everywhere, we are forever grateful.

Like that fall off the horse, these blows too tried to force fear and for a while, it worked and sometimes, it still does. Every time the phone would ring, I would panic. Every moment felt like an opportunity for disaster because disaster was all I saw. Yet, that fall wasn’t meant to teach me fear and neither was this, it was to teach me respect. Respect for that which is greater than me, that which I cannot control and perspective on that which I can. Respect for the relationships I value and the beautiful story we all lead.

Respect for life.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Double Yellow Squash

What hides behind? A double yellow squash from the saved seedlings.

 

 

To feel pain is to know we are alive and I don’t want to live at half-mast. I was blinded to the beauty all around me while under the spell of pain but I have awoken. Let’s move through, shall we?

Thank you for your patience in this time off and thank you for joining me again, back in the Beneath the Borealis saddle. Here’s to entries of joy.

 

To you and yours,

to life,

with love,

Julia

 

//This post is in honor of the three females who raised The Chief. To Donna, Jane and Cinda, I am eternally grateful. We miss you dearly and feel you with us daily. Your touch on this world lives on.//

 

Beneath the Borealis Back in the Saddle Bulb Blooms

Grandma’s beauty still blooms.

 

And thank you, M for the push to start again and for the fabulous snow pants I will wear with pride. I appreciate you.

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

Somedays, in the woods of Alaska, you wake up to an exact serving of fresh coffee grounds and the sweet sound of the tea kettle already boiling water. Your kitchen promises two dozen eggs at your disposal and the woodstove glows with last nights logs, now in beautiful coal form which means, lighting a fire will be a cinch and that the house is already likely above 50 degrees. Plus, a huge stack of firewood rests at your disposal next to the fireplace. You barely have to step outside for more than your morning “restroom” break (read: one must learn the art of the nature pee to live out here).

You spend your morning drinking your coffee, having scrambled eggs with veggies (you have tons at the moment) and your favorite cheese and even some orange juice on the side. You’re freshly showered and the laundry bin is empty as you spent the day yesterday doing laundry, depleting your water stores, and then hauling water to replenish them. You are stocked up in all avenues: food, warmth, clothing, hygiene, water and you even have some extras sprinkled on: orange juice, special cheese, freshly cleaned socks.

You are, as my Mama would say “In ’em”.

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

Things are looking on the bright side and lining up quite nicely.

On the other hand, some mornings, you wake up to a house at 37 degrees. You gingerly grab your robe, cursing the logs you had hoped would “catch” before you went to sleep and cursing yourself for not babying them further to ensure they would put out warmth. You go downstairs to find that there not only are no grounds, but there is no coffee, at which point, the rummaging begins to find where exactly in this tiny home of yours, you’ve hidden this gem from yourself. You further find that you are nearly out of water but luckily enough, you have just enough for coffee and so delicately fill up the tea kettle, hoping not to spill a drop. You’ll be hauling water shortly.

You go to light a fire and find that the fire did not catch well, but did leave you with a charcoal mess, by the time you organize it, you look like a chimney sweep. You resign to build another fire but there is no wood in the house at which point you decide to venture outside into what will, of course, be a brr-inducing morning and find that there is no chopped wood outside either. Being a stubborn beast, you decide to chop wood, despite the cold, with bare hands and slippers in your robe. Wild-haired, sweating with soot on your face, you return to start a fire, just as your water boils. Now it’s time to build a fire, find the coffee (and hope that you, in fact, do have extra coffee) and grind it. 15 minutes later, you’re finally getting the day started. It’s breakfast time but you realize your last egg went down the gullet yesterday and so you opt for oatmeal instead but realize you don’t even have enough water. A slightly mealy apple it is.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

In all likelihood, your last shower was a bit too far off for comfort, your socks have been “recycled” once or twice (let’s be honest, at least twice) and your fresh food supply is starting to not even meet Alaska Good standards (a term my girlfriend created in California as a way to gauge if something was indeed too far gone to eat. Alaska Good is still edible, but it’s close. Really close. I’ve been known to grab things before people throw them in the compost, saving apples with little bruises and lettuce that has a few slimy pieces but I do cap it at Alaska Good, most of the time). You’re dirty, hungry, under-caffeinated, out of water, out of wood, warm only because of the exercise your just beginning day already required and the only extra you have sprinkled on is the plethora of chores you have to do. The only bright side is that you can see the beautiful fire you just made because in the ebb you made an amazing concoction out of orange peels that takes away the grime and leaves you with this:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

You’re, as my Mama would say “Not in ’em”.

Some days, you’re in ’em and some days, you’re so far out of ’em you don’t remember what ’em looked like.

The ebb and flow here might as well be called the drought and the downpour because that is exactly how it goes.

Home from Town?

In ’em.

You’ve got meats and cheeses and eggs, oh my! Juices and fruits and veggies! You even have spinach.

Spinach, people. In the woods. That stuff barely keeps in the city but somehow, if you baby it every day, you can make it last a week here.

And then, a week passes and suddenly, supplies are rapidly decreasing. What felt like a boatload of supplies starts to look more like a mere bucket full and the rationing begins.

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

Yet oftentimes, just as you’re about to grab your divining rod, Alaska smiles upon you in the drought. Just as you crack your last egg, your friend’s chickens come out of Winter production and he’s selling again. Just as you face down your last bell pepper, your girlfriend picks you up one as a present one day while doing a laundry journey into Close Town.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Or, you remember the Shaggy Manes your girlfriend gave you a while back and you rehydrate them.

 

 

And the same rings true in reverse. Just as your neighbor runs out of salt, there you are, having bought extra with extra to spare. When all of your avocados ripen at once, you make a guacamole to share or you send one along as a gift. And then it returns, for just as you feel you can’t possibly cook another darn meal (as you cook every meal you eat, every day), someone calls to say they made extra chili if you’re hungry.

Of course, you are and you have a block of cheddar to top that chili with.

The go around come around makes the drought and downpour feel a little less torrential and a little more like an ebb and flow. It makes a life that can be hard, a little easier for even though the hard is what makes it good, sometimes you just need a little reprieve.

I’ve never lived a life where I couldn’t just pop into the store for what I’ve needed. I’ve never relied on my neighbors or felt comfortable enough doing so to call them at 9 pm and ask if they have an extra can of tomato paste. I’ve never cherished fresh as I do today or looked at a salad as if it were a goddess.

So, despite the sometimes harshness of the drought and downpour, the frustration of there not being wood, or not being water, or feeling like I may as well put in to be a member of the Garbage Pail Kids, the appreciation provided by the times where we are “In ’em” is enough. This place makes gratitude easy for the necessities are obvious and the ebb or flow of them is immediate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Ice Fall Nizina River Alaska

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

may your water buckets (or pipes) be full, may your pantries be stocked, may your baths be often (I am living vicariously through you, a bath is a gift from the Gods) and may your neighbors be kind enough to send over a little sugar once in a while.

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Bonfire

Chore Strong

Alaskan Chore Strong

Life in an Alaskan Tiny Home Requires Big Chores

 

I’ve always wanted to be strong. Since I was a little girl, I would flex on command my little tennis ball biceps and burly quads. I grew up a competitive Irish dancer and the amount of control you need quickly brought me into a conversation with my body. What can it do? What can’t it do? How can I get it to do that? I’d watch the older girls and shuffle my feet in mimicry until, one day, I could be taught those dances.

 

At home, my strength was required on the monthly dump run where I would lift and throw with my Dad the things that would then live in the pit below. One time, I myself even ended up in that pit, but that’s another story. Yet overall, my strength was relatively for my own pursuits in leisure and play.

For the most part, it stayed that way. As an adult, I had random chores and days that required strength. I’d marathon garden the heck out of some ivy, battling it until we both swept our brows in fatigue and called a leafy truce. Yet, those days were more of a choice and less of a chore.

Not anymore.

Nowadays, the chores choose.

When we returned this year, our neighbors were over when we realized we needed to haul water. There was not a drop to be found. Not a drop in the tea kettle or under the sink running to our faucet, not a drop in the pot that sat on the stove, not a drop in our glasses. The house was parched and so was I. So, we quickly set about to haul the 55-gallon refill required via 5-gallon buckets through the slippery snow and up the Ramp of Doom.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Spring in Alaska

The ROD with an added pleasure: a frozen in, slick, watering can, right in the path!

 

 

Our friends jumped in.

My girlfriends, total badasses as they are, grabbed two buckets apiece and headed up the old ROD into the house in one effortless motion. Despite the lack of a trail (read: post-holing through the knee-deep snow with 80 lbs. of water hanging from your arms) they made their way up the slippery Ramp of Doom in no time. I, myself grabbed two buckets to follow and quickly realized that, despite their having broken trail for me, even following in their footsteps was not going to be the break that I needed.

I was no longer chore strong.

I dropped the second bucket and hefted the other up and around into a belly bear hug hold at my chest and waddled my way to the house.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Icicles

…and through the second hurdle: two foot long icicles hanging ominously at the Ramp’s beginning.

 

 

It wasn’t pretty but it got the job done and got my wheels turning.

Chore strong.

From chopping and hauling wood, to driving snowmachines, to carrying the generator up and down the ROD to moving and refilling water vessels inside the house, the body simply can’t go a day in a total standstill here. And so, despite how far I had to come (adding a whole 40 extra lbs. to the load, to be exact), I knew I’d get there.

Two weeks later, there I was. Without even realizing it, I easily picked up the two 40lb. buckets and made my way inside. Lifting them over one another to stack in the kitchen, pouring them into the different vessels without spilling a drop, it all came easily whereas weeks earlier, it had felt so far away.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Tiny Home Water Systems

160lb. of water stacked and sandwiched in-between the stove and the refrigerator.

 

 

When I was a personal trainer, if you wanted to get better at something, you kept doing that thing. Sure, you’d do complementary exercises but for the most part, you kept going back to that which you wanted to better yourself at. Yet this wasn’t the same.

The two weeks in-between the one bucket at a time haul and the two bucket haul were dimpled by water runs, but the funny thing was, I wasn’t a part of them. The Chief had hauled water in the interim for us and so, I hadn’t practiced the feat since I had been at bucket one.

Yet in those two weeks, I had used my body in ways I hadn’t in months. I had forgotten the chore soreness. My forearms ached every day from chopping wood and skiing and lifting and moving boxes from the truck, up the ramp, and into the loft. My legs tired from walking through snow and lifting and skiing and climbing our stairs countless times a day. All these little muscles I hadn’t known I hadn’t used conspired together to make sure I knew where I had started but also to get me to where I needed to go.

The body responds.

Through my life, my body has been strong and soft, vigilant and lazy, painful and pain-free and all other iterations in between. I’ve loved it and loathed it, doted on it and ignored it, cursed it and coddled it, pampered and pushed it and still, it shows up for me.

The reckless little bicep flexing youngster still resides in me, I want to feel strong, but thankfully, she’s starting to couple with a different knowledge: I need my body. The times The Chief or I have been downed here, by injuries or illness, I’ve watched the entire house shift. All the chores rotate to one person and while that is the ebb and flow (and the luck) of having two people, it doesn’t feel good to be the one just watching.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Sledding

Like when you accidentally get taken out by a sled…thankfully this produced more laughs than injuries.

 

 

The chores are endless here but in this home where the hard is, I consider myself lucky. Lucky to see the growth and appreciate the starting points. Lucky to challenge and nurture simultaneously. Lucky to get laid-out when I’m not listening, even if it doesn’t feel lucky at the moment. Lucky to have someone to split the chores and the wood with.

Cheers to the chores, whatever yours may be and the bodies that allow them. May they teach us the lessons they hold and may we listen and then, upon their completion, may we celebrate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Long Lake Alaska Bonfire

Dig a fire pit? Celebrate a fire pit. Well done, friends.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Home Improvement

Alaska: Spring Cleaning // Spring Fever

Even Off-Grid Living in Alaska Doesn’t Escape the Spring Clean

A Tiny Home, a Desk, a Tree and a Solar System Get a DIY Reboot in the Backcountry of Alaska

Featured: DIY, Alaska, tiny home, backcountry, off-grid living, cross-country skiing, solar power, spring cleaning, spring, home improvement

 

It all started with a desk.

I believe they call it a Captain’s Desk, or at least that’s what this They has called it since I was a kid sitting at my prized possession: my Grandfather’s Captain’s desk. Sitting at that desk, composing little more than scribbles to pen pals, I dreamed myself a great writer, the likes of my Grandfather. At that desk, anything was possible and everything was intriguing. It had slots for organizing things I didn’t yet have like bills and checks to send out and things like postage and envelopes that I still didn’t quite grasp.  Every corner felt like a secret peek into adulthood and possibility.

I adored that desk.

So, when I arrived at The Chief’s bachelor pad three years ago, I was awed to see that he too had a Captain’s desk, with one little mishap: the front, or rather, the lack thereof. Normally, the front of the desk folds out into a scribe’s station, resting upon horizontal legs that lie within the desk and then, upon the scribe’s cessation of work, the front folds back up, hiding and tidying that which resides within. Dreamboat! But, like I said, this was missing.

That was three years ago.

Spring has sprung and unlike every other year where we arrive in the dark of Winter and spend months slowly coming out of our cocoon, we have budded and bloomed in the span of a week. Instead of slowly still putting away groceries over a week or two (as is the norm when you shop for 3 months at a time – simply finding the space to store your booty takes days on end) we were unpacked in days and onto:

Spring Cleaning.

Like I said, it all started with a desk.

The Chief had been noticing that I was in dire need of a workspace and awoke one morning a few days after we arrived with it on his mind:

“Let’s fix the desk.”

Yes, please.

But we have lots of ideas and lots of projects running through our mind around here. Most of our conversations are spent brainstorming ways to improve and increase the functionality of our home. Our house is peppered with To Do list dreams and doodles and so, I didn’t assume he meant right away, but eventually. We both went off to do our separate chores, though I got lost in some intricate girlfriend-inspired hair braiding first:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Braids Halo

Braid halo, window halo. What does it all mean?

 

 

…and suddenly, The Chief was enmeshed in what I can only describe as utter badassery coupled with potential insanity. We’d talked about (see, it happens all the time) moving our solar panel from the roof of the house to another, higher, better-placed location. Suddenly, it was happening. Before I knew it, a “simple” jaunt up onto our snow-laden roof to de-ice the solar panel…

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Home Improvement

How’s the air up there, dear?

 

 

…turned into a new project: moving the solar panel.

While I was encouraged by his enthusiasm, my heights-wary self wasn’t so sure how a solar panel was going to make it from the top of our house into a tree (a tree that as far as I could tell, didn’t have some magical stairs on it) that stood even higher than our roof.

I also wasn’t sure exactly how, once in the non-stepped tree, he was going to cut off the top of said tree.

I found out.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Stihl Saws

A 24-foot extension ladder, a Tree, a Hubby-To-Be and, of course, a Chainsaw (a running Chainsaw, nonetheless).

 

 

Like I said: utter badassery mixed with potential insanity.

Follow me on Instagram to see a video of this mayhem: @beneaththeborealis

After this wild feat for him and a closer to the ground day of chopping wood (see a video of my Tasmanian Devil wood chopping abilities on Instagram) for me, the day was almost done.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Lumberjane Lumberjack

Whackin’ action shot.

 

 

I finished it off with the first meeting of the Westside Women’s Ski Team and an impromptu party.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Cross Country Skiing Women.jpg

Olympics, here we come.

 

 

By morning, I had already forgotten about the desk, but The Chief hadn’t. He awoke again with a desk notion and this time, like Spring Fever, I bit.

Let’s do it.

But it was less of a Let’s job and more of a You job. The logistics proved that two was too many, or at least that’s what I suggested as suddenly, the Spring Fever hit me too with some good old fashioned Spring cleaning.

I used to balk at the Spring Clean but I’ve come to regard it as an essential member of the grouping of events that keep my head on straight.

From 9 am to 6 pm I cleaned. Top to bottom, like my Mama taught me, and into the nitty-gritty: organizing.

Organizing here is a constant game of Tetris. One moment you have no space because you’ve just arrived from Town with everything plus a little more. One month later, you are eating your last frozen peas and the cupboards are roomy, if not empty minus that can of beans you keep avoiding yet can’t seem to chuck. Yet either way, packed or full, without a system, even the most organized goodies turn into frustrations.

Day 1 of the New Desk: The Chief had the desk completed before I had even contemplated which cans should go where but was I ready to move in to said “New Desk”?
No sir-ee-Bob. I was mid-project. I couldn’t stop now.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Tiny Home Organizing

Hiding behind the shower door…

 

 

I continued with the Spring Clean, scrubbing down and organizing the kitchen until it didn’t even recognize itself. Finally, the day of successes ended with the sweet reward of giggling the night away with a gaggle of girlfriends.

Day 2 of the New Desk: Move-in day. For real.

I hadn’t anticipated for move-in day to actually take a day (though The Chief probably had when I had admired the desk the day before but just not been ready to pull the trigger). Just like I always do before accepting something new into our space (even though it was a mere panel that had changed) I had to make it ours and that usually has something to do with cleaning. Bingo. Spring still having sprung, the spray bottle of Mrs. Meyers was poised and ready for action from the day before and so, I gave the old desk a little spruce up to go with its new accessory.

What started as cleaning out the desk and officially moving in (since, without the panel, it had been both too short and too tall all at once – I can’t explain it – so I had never really worked at it) turned into a full-on, full-bore Spring Clean Upstairs/Living Room Edition. Because, once the desk was clean, I noticed the window behind it was dirty, which alerted me that all the windows were dirty upstairs, which alerted me that all the windows were dirty downstairs in the house.

Dirty here means a little more than a need for some Windex. Think dust and dirt build-up for the last 6 months: dead bug massacres in windows, window frames that may have never been deep cleaned, etc. etc.

It was daunting.

Plus, every time you open a window to clean it the inside bug-laden grooves, the cleaner starts to freeze. It’s a race against time and at 10 below zero, a bit of a finger freezer.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Engagement Ring

But a little added sparkle this year made it all rainbow surprises.

 

 

The Chief, ne’er a day without some sort of high-up high jinks, it seems, also had a window day as he helped our neighbor put the windows into his new home next door.

He arrived home and saw me sitting in my perch (in the sink – I had finally made it downstairs. Four more windows to go) to clean the kitchen windows when his Spring Fever kicked back in as he set out to clean up our battery bank.

While cleaning the windows downstairs I ran into some of the usual suspects: bones. From antlers to jawbones to teeth and skulls, we run across some pretty cool stuff here but one set of jaws had been calling for a cleaning for quite a while. So, clean it I did. I decided to throw the bones in boiling water on the stove to get off excess dirt and gunk inside (after further research, peroxide would have been a great option but, this is the woods. We can’t exactly pop over to CVS for a quick pick-up so sun bleaching it will be until the next trip to Town. This is the perfect example of why things take forever in the woods and something I didn’t quite understand until I lived it).

An hour later and I was wondering what was smelling so good on the stove.

Eww.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Skeletons Preserving

Boiling bear bones. Now I understand the expression “Long in the tooth”. That thing is insane!

 

 

Fresh bone marrow? Delicious. Old bone marrow? I must have been channeling Lou.

Yet, now we have prettier bones.

By 6 pm, dust bunnies devastated and top to bottom halfway complete, we were both pooped. The wires under the stereo no longer looked like an abstract painting and the windows glistened from the inside out (though not the outside in, that’s for another day that rises above freezing. Patience, patience). The sun set on another fevered day.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Battery Bank Off the Grid

The 60-armed octopus only now has 8 legs.

 

 

We left Fall here to find Summer in California, followed by Fall, followed by Winter, followed by Summer in Ecuador, followed by Spring in California, followed by Spring in Alaska. We’ve season hopped like the wild rabbits through our yard and after months of packing and unpacking, we are finally unpacked and nestling in.

It all started with a desk.

 

 

 

 

Happy Spring (or whichever season you find yourself in) to you all.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Alaska Spring Cleaning Spring Fever 3-26-18 Cross Country Skiing Julia Page.jpg

Thank goodness for you, Diesel-boo. Cinda’s brother joins the daily ski.

 

 

// If you want to see The Chief in all his Stihl-induced wonder or me chopping up a storm, follow me on Instagram: @beneaththeborealis to see that video and other content not shared on the blog. //

// Missing the weekly dose of Beneath the Borealis? Sign-up at the top of the page for weekly BTB straight into your inbox. //

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Polar Bear Alpaca

A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home

We’ve arrived.

After two weeks of shuffling and switching between sleeping spots, packing and unpacking and repacking again, we’ve arrived home.

Home.

From the moment we left California, everything was different (other than shipping a case of wine for free, that was the same. Thank you STS + Alaska Airlines).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home CA view to AK.jpg

The goodbye glow.

 

 

 

For the first time, we returned to Alaska saying “Yes”.

For the first time, we returned with clear work plans for the Spring and Summer months.

For the first time, we traveled in our own truck with a working heater.

For the first time, we returned in late Winter.

For the first time, we returned just us two.

 

Once on the Alaska side of things, we were smoothly skating along.

Pre-Alaska wasn’t as easy. Our last day went a little like this: high stress, filled with rain, a broken car defroster + windows that won’t roll down = no visibility, locked out of our storage unit where ALL of The Chief’s new tools that he needs for the season were stored, soaked in rain trying to get in and then running my face into my car window in an effort to jump quickly inside, resulting in a sweet little shiner.

There were a few too many last-minute chores and odds and ends but, in the end, the skies cleared and we sat at the kitchen table, my Brother, my Nephew (the fearless, toothless wonder), my Mom, The Chief and I eating tuna salad and laughing it off. It was good and hard to leave. My heart straddles the states with neither part taking or leaving more. It’s good to arrive and hard to leave each time, each place.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Fresh Squeezed Lemonade

The simple joys of California living: making fresh squeezed blood orange lemonade in March.

 

 

But leave we did in the smoothest of fashions and arrived just the same. We were back to our well-oiled machine Alaskan selves.

I wait for luggage, you pick up the car (already running and warm inside. Pure luxury).

You drive the icy streets, I navigate.

We arrived at The Musher & Hula’s Anchorage abode around 2 am, you know, the normal hour for guests and immediately, I felt Alaska sinking in. After being gone for so long, I was missing that connection.

The smooth continued on into the next day when we gazed upon the two lists I’d made:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Blood Orange Lemonade

List magic. The Chief is in the background pondering my superhuman abilities…

 

 

One listing everything we had at home.

Another, listing everything we needed.

The Chief congratulated himself on being genius enough to have caught such a genius fiancée.

Arriving at 2 am and leaving one day later sounded ambitious, but as we floated through our chores 12 hours later, we became giddy with the reality that we were indeed heading home tomorrow.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Costco.jpg

Just one basket!

 

 

 

After dinner at R&J’s with even more Alaskan friends, we were getting more and more excited to head home.

And, an early rise and a blood draw later (we had to at least throw in some medical issues) and we were off.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Alaskan Men.jpg

My moon, my man.

 

 

We’d heard tales of The Road, 60 miles of ice covered in slush and so we steadied ourselves for a tough journey but 6 hours later, as we laid our first tracks, it still felt easy, breezy.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home McCarthy Road

Easy, breezy because I wasn’t driving, that is.

 

 

After a few quick inhale moments (on my part, The Chief was relaxed, as always while driving in insane conditions) crossing through some tougher road glaciers, we were home. We arrived at our snowmachine, with the sled attached, at the end of our driveway, ready to haul our goods to an already heated house with working lights.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Snowman.jpg

Snow aliens.

 

 

It has never been easier.

Lordy, I love our friend family.

The hard part came in heart form when we awoke from our warm bed the morning after to the quiet. I quickly awoke, worried that I’d slept too long and Lou would be hungry. But, of course, Lou wasn’t there.

 

Just the quiet.

Just the two of us.

 

Through all of the beautiful, growing up life changes we’ve welcomed since we’ve left from and returned to Alaska, that jarring sadness still remains. It followed us through California to Ecuador and back, all in different forms, despite the thought that I might escape it. It’s smaller but it’s there.

Thankfully, so are our friends.

After a cry and a realization that we needed the house to fill up with more than just our own sounds, we heard a call. Just like that, our needs were met, as our neighbor (who had set our house up so cherry for us – which was no quite feet given the inch of solid ice under all the snow. That’s a lot of Ramp of Doom chipping…) hollered as he walked over. An hour later, another neighbor followed with his pooch and after him more and more of our family (canine and human) arrived until we found ourselves amongst half of the valley, at a bonfire in our backyard.

We’ve arrived.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Polar Bear Alpaca

My favorite spot. Patterns, much?

 

 

 

 

 

Home again, home again, different as it may be and same as it always was, joys and sadnesses set in balance by those we share this place with and are lucky enough to call our friend family. Thank you for making it easy, physically and emotionally, to snuggle in so sweetly again.

Welcome home.

Love,

Winter & Friends

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home True Romance.jpg

With love, The Scribe & The Chief

 

 

5 Things to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Go To Ecuador)

What? What did you think we were expecting?

 

Research we may and research we might but despite a studious approach, it’s near impossible for a person to know a place until, well, you know the place. I do not presume to “know” Ecuador but along the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve picked up a thing or two. This is by no means an exhaustive list but instead, a sneak peek into the perks and pastimes, odds and ends and oddities of a place we called home for a moment in time.

 

ONE: The people

A smile is universal. You may know this from traveling in places where you don’t necessarily communicate well in the language but just in case you were wondering about Ecuador, it’s true there too. The people there are far more willing to smile than our co-patriots in North America (is there a daily smile allotment I haven’t been told about so that people don’t want to waste their smiles?) and if you ask for help (or even if you don’t but obviously look like you need it) they are quick to jump in. Shoot, even when you don’t know that you need help they jump in.

The Chief and I had a rough moment and a Cinda reminder (there are huskies everywhere in Ecuador) in the way of a sweet stray that brought tears to both of our eyes when a stranger approached us and offered The Chief his beer. “I just want you to be happy, amigo (friend)” he said. He didn’t need to reach out, it wasn’t his duty. He was amongst friends on a Friday night, seemingly on vacation himself but reach out he did. A smile is universal. English however, is not. Practica, pratica. We must practice our languages.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Canoa Hostesses Ecuador.jpg

Hostesses with the Most(esses). Thank you!

 

 

TWO: The animals

As you might have surmised, we are dog people and in general, in the U.S. I think we are in good company (the sheer volume of cute kitty/puppy videos should be proof alone that we are pro pet), yet not everyone or everywhere in the world feels the same. In the time I’ve spent in Mexico and Central America, stray dogs weren’t often seen as comrades but rather as nuisances and their often skittish nature protected them from potential affronts. I’d always adopt a dog while in my travels and wish I could bring him or her back with me because the life they lead was rough and it was hard to see. So, I prepared myself to be in a place where dogs might not be regarded as family members.

Wrong, oh so wrong.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Must Love Dogs Ecuador

Must Love Dogs.

 

 

Without placing too great an Alapaca blanket statement over the country, this place loves dogs (yet another reason to call is Alascuador). The dogs in Canoa were well taken care of. People would take turns bringing them to the vet and ridding them of fleas and they, in turn, acted as local security officers, escorting non-locals home on the potentially dangerous late night beach walks, asking for little more than an ear scratch in return, if that. Baños was no different. I’ve actually never seen so many dog grooming and veterinary establishments per square mile anywhere and the local businesses would have consistently full (despite being frequently visited) watering and feeding stations for the local perros. They lived independent, seemingly pretty wonderful lives and were well-regarded members of society. Even trying to adopt a dog here would seem funny because 1. The dog would have to adopt you and 2. They don’t really need you. It would have to be a special match.

 

THREE: The market

Bargaining, to me, had always seemed rude, a sort of “this isn’t worth what you’re asking” insult, but this trip gave me a whole different insight. Bargaining in Ecuador (and I’m sure most places where bargaining is a part of the culture) is like a dance, a push and pull where both parties have to play their role lest one person be dragged about or ignored. Bargaining is participating. If someone gives you a price and you just take it, you’ve told them you’re not interested in the dance and so, you take the item and they take the inflated dollar amount (yes, another Ecuadorian quirk I hadn’t known until we planned the trip: they are on the American dollar).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Artesanal Market in Banos Ecuador

Welcome to the show, people.

 

 

By the end of the trip, after tips from locals on bargaining strategies, we were bargaining fiends (OK maybe not quite fiends, but we were participating). Hear a price, cut it in half and together, find the middle from there. It wasn’t so much the change of the price but rather the smiles and laughs throughout the process that made me adopt it. It was true, it was a dance and although clumsy at times, we broke out a few rusty moves (The Lawnmower, The Shopping Cart, you name it. 90’s move).

FOUR: The bathroom

When traveling, the basic necessities come to the forefront. Food, water, bodily functions, shelter, all coming demanding attention at different times depending on the immediacy with which they need to be satisfied. Thankfully, the bathroom is one necessity that is well thought out in Ecuador. From the moment you realize that you have to pee to the moment that you find a bathroom usually lasts no longer than 3 minutes, at which point you pay the fee (normally about $0.25 cents for TP and the bathroom or $0.10 without. Lucky boys) and tada! Needs satisfied.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Bathrooms Quito Ecuador

 

 

In public restrooms, you may even be able to go in for free, however, don’t forget to get your toilet paper ahead of time. The dispenser sits at the entrance to the stalls. There is no TP in the individual stalls. I repeat: there is no toilet paper (almost never at least) in the individual stalls. This can make for a rough surprise so in case I forgot, I often kept a bit of TP in my pocket (another Alaska similarity). Overall, the necessity of a bathroom was met full-force and reminded me of how easy it can be. I can’t even recall all the times I’ve been in San Francisco or any other large city in the states and nearly peed myself trying to find a public restroom, only to give up 30 minutes in, paying $5.00 for a coffee I don’t want in a bathroom certainly not worth a $5.00 visit.

 

*Ecuadorian quirk: In every place we stayed or paid to use, the bathrooms were perfumed by the use of perfumed toilet paper. The Chief and I even sought out unscented toilet paper at the grocery store and were only able to find it in Quito. Perhaps it’s because of the second quirk which you may already be familiar with: toilet paper does not go into the toilet but rather into a trash basket nearby. Again, none of this matters if you don’t buy/bring the toilet paper to begin with so, either stock your pockets or don’t be a ding-dong and grab paper first. And now that we are back? I am constantly trying to remember the protocol. TP in trash? Toilet? Outhouse? Oh wait, that’s Alaksa but it’s again, another similarity to Ecuador. I basically spend my time these days trying to remember where the TP goes. Glamorous.

 

FIFTH: The bus

This one is last because it’s my favorite. So, first thing’s first: travel in Ecuador is far different from I thought it would be. Surprised? No, me neither. Travel between locations was not something I studiously approached but with a map showing a relatively small country, a plentitude of roadways and buses as the main transport I figured we’d be bussing about quite a bit. Right and wrong. The Right: The buses here are plentiful and you can get seemingly everywhere. The Wrong: Even Ejecutivos (First Class direct buses) make quite a few stops, elongating the trip. A 4-hour journey by car is an 8-10 hour bus ride. So, although you can get everywhere, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get there. Ok, boring semantics out-of-the-way and…onto the best part: Bus Atmosphere (with a focus on food. Surprised?).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Chivas in Banos Ecuador

Chivas! Tour buses that are essentially Saturday Night Fever on wheels. Plus families.

 

 

That’s right, friends, buses here are basically a party on wheels with food as the ever-changing guest of honor. Buses here blast one of two types of entertainment (and sometimes both, simultaneously): movies and music. On one 10-hour bus ride, they were showing a horror movie (a true one too, the scariest kind. Gee, thanks) at full volume. Thankfully, The Chief and I were seated right under the speaker (catch the sarcasm). However, truly thankfully, I think the fright and might of the movie scared the bus sickness out of me. If it’s not a movie, it’s tunes, normally full-blast. On the way back from the grocery store one day, “Despacito” was playing. The bus was comprised mainly of schoolkids and basically turned into a music video with the kiddos singing at the top of their lungs whilst dancing in the aisles and seats. So, needless to say, entertainment is included. Next up: snacks.

Bus food is the syrup to my pancakes. Our first ride from Quito to Canoa was a 12-hour day and after a lackadaisical bag search by a very nonchalant security guard, I was forced to throw away the food we had brought for the ride. Never fear, Ecuadorian hospitality to our rescue. You see, at every stop, the buses are swarmed by vendors offering all sorts of goodies. I had read not to eat fruit or street food for fear of the tummy revenge but I had already caved on day two and had a salad without negative effects so I was up for a risk but still a little shy. What was all this stuff?

Thankfully, Ecuadorian hospitality to the rescue, the woman next to us kept buying extra of every vendor who came on the bus and giving us a taste. Whole mangoes, fruit in a cup, ice cream, bread, honey roasted soybeans, plantain chips (I think The Chief OD’d on these), empanadas, pork in a fanny pack (avoid that one, unless you want to end up like our friends from Boston) and our ultimate favorite: Pan de Yucca ((bread, usually with cheese, made from yucca (picture a sort of potato and a sweet potato baby) flour)). On a queasy but hungry tummy, those rolls (gluten-free even) warm from a cloth napkin-covered basket are like a hug for your stomach.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Pan de Yucca Ecuador

Behold, the glory that is Pan de Yucca. Thank you, lady on the bus.

 

 

Finally, in the food parade, the longest buses often break up the trip with a stop at a restaurant where the food is great, the facilities are clean and the much-needed stretching of the limbs is available. Muchisimas gracias. So, even though it may take a day to get somewhere, at least you’re well fed along the way.

Now that you’ve read the big 5 you’re ready for Ecuador but just in case you needed a few extra intricacies to put in your back pocket, look no further.

 

10 Quick Odds and Ends and Ecuadorian Quirks:

1.) Alpaca is a staple and if you spend any time in cold climates I highly recommend getting some. I had to forcibly stop The Chief from spending our future life savings on everything alpaca (don’t worry, he still made out with head to toe llama).

2.) Try the streetside mango with salt, lime and chili powder. You can thank me later.

3.) Crocs are insanely popular. I’m open to it but I’ll never say I get it. Oh, and taffy. Taffy is everywhere.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Taffy in Banos Ecuador.jpg

That is some serious taffy handling.

 

 

4.) The lunch special anywhere is by far the most economical and filling meal of the day (think soup and popcorn/plantain chip appetizers, a large meal and a drink and potentially a dessert). Plus, here you’ll find the locals and where the locals eat is where you want to be.

 

5.) The bamboo structures here are impressive, to say the least.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Isla Corazon

 

 

6.) Stop and smell the roses. Really. Ecuador produces a huge amount of the roses you see in the U.S. Apparently, Andean conditions are the thorny beauties favorites and so, roses abound.

7.) Fear of heights? Enjoy. From bus rides to hikes to waterfalls to treehouses, Ecuador has seemingly endless options to flex your fear of heights. Flex on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Basilica del Voto Quito Ecuador

We decided to climb to the top of that spire, obviously. Afraid? Me?

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Basilica del Voto Quito Ecuador 2

View from the top. Barf.

 

 

8.) Ecuador + ice cream = every afternoon. I haven’t seen the cold stuff adored like this since Italy. Feels like home.

9.) Small bills and coins are king. If you show up with $100 bills you are either a.) leaving with them or b.) leaving with inaccurate change. $20 is the biggest bill you should bring and always aim to pay in exact coinage (especially on buses, etc.) or if you have a large bill, pay for your co-riders and they can buy you a beer later. Make it easy.

10.) The street art is amazing. The sheer use of color alone had my art heart swooning. Eat it up.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Street Art in Banos Ecuador

My favorite.

 

 

Well, that’s all, folks and by “that’s all” I mean that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the Ecuador that I’ve known thus far. I hope to return soon and report back more findings. In the meantime, have you gone to Ecuador or South America? What are your favorite quirks of living abroad? Do tell.

And now…to Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Flowers of Ecuador

The Last Day

It’s belonged to others so far, others I’ve wished to join in the title, others I’ve felt sorry for that they bear its impending exit.

Yet today, it is ours and ours alone.

The last day.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Hotel Canoa Ecuador

Amazing art everywhere you look.

 

 

Tomorrow, we depart from a place once foreign now familiar to a new unknown.

In our time here we’ve found an ever-changing yet ever-present family. We’ve fallen into a schedule and habits never before formed. Sunset surf? A trip into another world. Trivia Tuesday? One must defend one’s title.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Surf Shak Canoa Ecuador

The ominous blank page.

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 San Vicente Ecuador Coco Bongo Trivia Champs

Thursdays in Bahia.

 

 

We’ve cycled through schedules from early to bed, early to rise to late nights and lazy mornings and back around again and again. Even I, with my propensity for planning, have learned to let go and just be. A little bit.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Workspace Work from Home

Plus, when the work kicks in, it could be worse. Work from wherever happiness.

 

 

This month in a place once unknown, now like home has been full of the ups and downs of, guess what? Life. Yet life in a very different setting.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 San Vicente Ecuador Coco Bongo Trivia.jpg

Amazing.

 

 

It’s funny how wherever you go, there you are. Pardon the inspirational kitten poster, next to its philosophical counterpart behind my High School Guidance Counselor’s desk but it does ring true, doesn’t it? That kitten sure is cute (“Hang in there” she says, whilst hanging from a branch) and the philosophy? True.

We may live a life on the opposite side of the Equator but just like us, it too arrived in this polar opposite of places. It’s been wonderful to watch a life develop in even the most drastically different of places.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Flowers of Ecuador

Flowers in Winter make my heart sing.

 

 

A place where clothes are a necessity but only for social graces and even then, arriving in a bathing suit and flip-flops is sometimes accessible. In Alaska, clothes are our partners in survival. They serve to spare us in our fight with the cold. Here, clothes create as small a layer as is deemed decent between oneself and the heat. In Alaska we chase the sun all day, here we find moments of respite in shade and prepare for the sun’s might. In Alaska we fight to keep groceries from freezing on the 8-hour drive home, here we fear they’ll spoil or melt in a ten-minute walk. Here, we run to the water to cool off, in Alaska our submersion might kill us.

Yet in all of the opposites, there is a similarity, an Ecualaska or Alascuador or whatever you might come up with of similarities in these drastically different places and within that strange, unexpected similarity we’ve found our rhythm. We’ve found our life in a place so far from where it lies.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador

Sunset in swimsuits? Not advisable in AK…

 

 

Now, we bid it adieu.

Today will be spent soaking up the last rays we can absorb, surfing at sunset (hopefully, since I decided to throw my back out in a triumphant sleeping matching with a too big pillow gone wrong yesterday) and toasting one last time with the family over a shared dinner. Or not. Maybe, it will be spent reading. Either way, I expect a Goodbye Sunburn (check).

Adios, Canoa. You’ve been lovely. You’ve been simultaneously otherworldly and completely the same, drastically different and as familiar as my middle name. We adore you and hope to see you again soon.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The Last Day 02:26:18 Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador

I love you.

 

 

Alaska, we are one step closer to your embrace.

But until then, onward, to Baños, Ecuador!

A Reason, A Season or A Lifetime

Years ago I met a woman who enchanted me. She was witty and funny and cute to boot with a generosity that just kept giving. By chance, we ended up working together for a week or so and I hoped with fingers crossed that she would want to be my friend. In that week, we shared stories and stared down one another’s life situations, advising one other to the best of our abilities. In one such moment of advice, she regaled to me a statement that had been offered unto her:

“A person can come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Sometimes all three.”

Although she had given me this bit of advice in regards to a particular situation, it started to seep into and throughout my understandings of my surroundings. Suddenly, the challenging or the random had a purpose: reason. The people I’d once fallen so quickly in with and faded away from just as quickly too had their purpose: season and the people I knew I’d always know were my lifetimers.

I sent a little wish skyward that this woman wouldn’t be just this lesson, not just a reason.

Five years later, we are still dear friends.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Sonoma Coast with Danielle.jpg

From the forest to the beach to the back of a random person’s truck to pinot on the beach. What a day. What a gal.

 

 

She is the one I went to when my relationship fell apart and I needed somewhere to feel loved and recoup. She fed me soup and drew me baths and encouraged me to go. Travel was the best medicine, we decided and so off I went: first stop Alaska, next stop Thailand.

Thailand, as we know, never came.

Yet Ecuador did.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Isla Corazon Tropical Flowers Ecuador.jpg

Peek-a-boo around a boat

 

 

Now, more than ever, amongst only new, I again hear her words: a reason, a season or a lifetime. Or all three.

We arrived at our home away from home three weeks ago. From the moment I saw it on the website, I knew we would be staying there, and although it was lovely, I couldn’t have told you why exactly we had to stay there, we just did. The night we came in it was nearing 11pm. We’d been on bus after bus, hour after nauseous hour (apparently I get bus sick nowadays. Who knew?!) and finally, we had arrived. Almost. After almost 12 hours of travel, we had one last push. We panted through the mile plus long walk, walking hopefully in the right direction, with our backpacks filled to the brim and when we arrived we were greeted by the whole family. They graciously settled us into our room, turned on the fan full blast to bite away at the layer of heat that had taken residence in our room and bid us goodnight.

Bienvenidos.

Welcome.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Sundown Hotel Canoa Ecuador Manabi.jpg

The view from our room. Palm trees, ocean, sea breeze? Yes, please.

 

 

The next morning, as we were sitting out on the terrace having our coffee and tea, we started to meet our fellow travelers, four lovely gentlemen: The Bachelors. Within ten minutes we had lunch plans, a date for that evening, yoga plans for early the following morning to be succeeded by a lesson in Ecuadorian grocery shopping and trivia plans in the night.

We had arrived.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Sunset Canoa Ecuador Manabi

First sunset.

 

 

The place swept us up and into a family of ever-changing characters.

At first, we were the youngest members, the kids of the group and the only present couple (and I the only visiting female). Then we suddenly had younger siblings in the form of four young Welsh travelers with whom we became fast friends (and the gender divide lessened).

And then the first goodbyes.

After just a few short fun-filled days full of stray dogs guarding us on walks home and dinners in and drinks out, the Welsh were gone.

The first goodbye of many while The Core group remained: the bachelors (my used to be bachelor) and I.

We grew a little closer.

We took day trips together.

We swept the local trivia circuit.

We grew closer again.

Then came the next set of siblings with whom we too bonded quickly. Everything was halvsies. We shared everything from dinners to surfboards to after sun aloe (with Lidocaine, no doubt). They extended their stay, as we’ve learned most people do when they get here, but then they too arrived at the day when they had to depart.

That goodbye broke the dam and suddenly the goodbyes started flooding in. Arrivals and departures sped as Carnival approached but still, The Core group remained.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime The Core in Canoa Ecuador Manabi

Sunset chasers

 

 

Again, siblings arrived in the form of a couple from the UK. They too took a liking to all things Canoa: surfing, trivia, pre-mixed coconuts and again the family expanded. We weathered the wild of Carnival together and watched the sleepy town swell by thousands into an all the time nightclub we peeked in on. And then, just like that, it was gone.

We said goodbye to the festival and just as soon as we had, it was time to bid the UK couple adieu as well.

The family was shrinking again.

Ebb and flow.

And then, the first of The Core left, one of our constants, one of the people I had bonded with most closely, like a Dad and best friend wrapped up into one kind face from Colorado.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Tom in a Flower in Canoa Ecuador Manabi

 

 

The Core was moving on.

Suddenly, every day seemed to be someone’s last day and so there stirred in me a sort of uneasy swirling of unsteady ground. I wanted every moment to be their best and at the same time, I wanted things to just be normal. Our Lou used to get nervous whenever she would see someone packing and then would either disappear or try to jump in the truck. Either be left behind by her own accord or decide she was coming with you, either way, it had to be her decision. I can sympathize with that. All the change made me uneasy. I wanted to either jump ship as well or pretend it wasn’t happening.

I’ve never been swift to flow with change.

And so, of course, change came again.

Another of The Core had his last day. We spent it together and we spent it well. We ventured together to a nature preserve, filled with mangroves and more species of birds than I could count.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Isla Corazon Ecuador Manabi

A female passes over a male doing the dance of love for her.

 

 

It was a beautiful day but the tinge of another Last Day again stirred the pot.

Change, again.

Yesterday morning, he left. Another Father-like friend who knew how to simply be. Be in the moment. Be present. Be content.

As The Chief and I ate our granola post-goodbye, who should come around the corner but our first friend here, our Southern hospitality in a far more Southern place.

Suddenly, strangely, we had come full circle. Those who had left had returned and those who had been here had gone.

Later that night, two more travelers arrived to grace our doorsteps: again, another who had been here right as we arrived and then, a newbie. The cycle continued. The family again was in flux but the circular fashion in which it flowed made me smile. It was a family anew.

A family that keeps me going back to what my dear friend said: a reason, a season or a lifetime. Or all three.

It’s too soon to know how everyone will fall into one another’s lives but if nothing more, each member became a reason in my life. Some of the reasons are obvious, some are little more than breadcrumbs of clues a strewn about the way.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Surfing Canoa Ecuador Manabi

 

 

Sometimes people just show up in the moment you need them. Sometimes, you can’t be sure why until later.

I felt the familiarity of a father I hadn’t felt in years, the encouragement of a cheerleader cheering for me to just be me, the camaraderie of four people of the same age in totally different places than us and the youthful liveliness of those younger than us with plenty of lessons to share.

The reasons abound, the seasons may present themselves and the lifetime will only know. Either way, I am grateful to have traveled all this way, only to find myself amongst my lessons, amongst tools to find my way through and amongst family already old and new.

Thank you.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis February 9th 2018 A Reason A Season or A Lifetime Family Tree Canoa Ecuador Manabi.jpg

Family trees, beach style.

 

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