DIY

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part III

So many cliffhangers lately, eh? But if you’re here, reading this, two wonderful things have happened: one, you’ve subscribed (thank you!) and two, you’re finally about to learn the truth.

The truth?

Have I been lying to you, sweet reader? Never. Have I been leaving one huge part of our life out?

Yes’m.

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AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part II

So…where did we leave off?

Ah, yes, Anticipation City.

So, did we make it across the border?

If you’ll recall, the border that day was Turtle (of Turtle and the Hare fame) slow. We were one of two cars, the other of which the guard had sent off for a full inspection. We waited as their rig was given the once, twice, thrive over, anticipating our own packed to the brim paddywagon being unpacked item by item.

As the inspected car apparently passed with flying colors, it was now our turn. We pulled up to the window, rolling down ours, pulling our masks over our big smiles, doing our best to look the part of the precise people you want patronizing your Province (a mouthful of P’s!). It’s hard to look friendly when half of your face is covered but I told my smile wrinkles to put on a show. Now, I don’t know about you but when I get pulled over, I become a Chatty Kathy and so does my partner in crime. We did our best to simply stick to the facts and, as one of our friends suggested, “overwhelm with paperwork”. We had papers for the dog (who was looking all things upstanding citizen with his freshly bathed and brushed self), papers for my name change, papers for The Chief’s brief brush with the law, paper for our marriage, papers for our rental down south, papers for our COVID tests…we had what felt like a small tree’s worth of paper with us and we sent it his way. Nailed it, right?! He shooed the papers away. He wanted to talk. Cool, cool, cool…

Alaskan Malamute
Stay cool, man.
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AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part I

If you love utter chaos, down-to-the-minute deadlines, and high-stakes, the start to our travels down south was right up your alley. While some form of chaos is inevitable in travel it seems, the past few years, we’ve really dialed in our departures to lessen the stress of leaving. Yet, as fate would have it, this time our well-oiled machine seized.

How?
A lot of distraction and a little technology.

You see, if and when you ever change your name, you’ll learn that it is, dare I say, a royal pain in the rear. I dove into the post-marital surname switch to the best that our 16-hour roundtrip from town locale would allow but in the end, I had failed to change my passport in time for our departure from AK to CA. Worried I wouldn’t get through, we phoned the Canadian Border Patrol and inquired: just how big of a deal was it that my passport didn’t match my new last name? Turns out…not that big of a deal. Phew! The other small hiccup that stole our attention was a brief moment The Chief had spent with a small-town cop who had big-time problems with him. We had worried for years if Canada would let him through and our inquiries had been far less fruitful than my passport woes. Indeed they had been inconclusive.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto was unimpressed

The third distraction was the need for a negative COVID test within 72-hours of reaching the border. Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. You see, Alaska was (and still is) deeply struggling to meet the sudden surge of COVID in a resource-tapped state and there simply weren’t enough tests to go around. I had called everywhere from the nearest clinic to the border (one that would still be a few hours detour) to clinics in Anchorage. No one had the PCR tests required. One clinic had another accepted test but they had been receiving the results in random increments of time. Some people got their results within a day, some within 4 days. We needed them within 72-hours of hitting the border.

I kept trying, to no avail until on one of our umpteen trips to Anchorage, I saw a place offering the testing.

PCR tests Anchorage
Spotted from the car!

Even though it was a 16-hour detour AND we couldn’t make an appointment (we could only do walk-in which, when you live 8 hours away is a really funny/frustrating idea) it was the best option. We resigned ourselves to adding another 600 miles to our trip.

So, with the aforementioned distractions semi-settled, we looked to our departure date with anticipation and excitement. The Chief hurriedly got the addition in tip-top shape and I spent every weekend working on getting the house ready for us to leave. Three Anchorage trips within the month prior to leaving meant we’d done all of our building supply shopping, dropped off all of our plant babies with their sitters (dear friends of ours who took ALL of our plants for the winter), and seen our doctors and dentists. Things were settled and relatively calm for the miles we’d been clocking and the long weeks we’d been working. There was a calm to the storm.

Plantsitting
Buh bye babies!

Until there wasn’t.

So now we know the distraction. Here’s where the little bit of technology comes in: 6 days before we were meant to depart, my phone announced a reminder to me. Now, I don’t know about you but I typically respond to reminders with something to the effect of “Whatever that is, I’ll do it later” (productivity in action!) but for some reason, that day I looked at it immediately and what did I see? Our future plans dissolving. “CC Passport Expires” was all it read. I clicked into it. Surely this must be a reminder for 6 months before the expiration date. Why would I set a reminder for one week before it expired?! Unexplainably, I did. I dug into our family filing cabinet and pounced upon the passport in question. Surely, the reminder had to be wrong.

Wrong again.

The reminder was right. All along we’d been so worried about MY passport that we’d forgotten to check on The Chief’s passport. We called the Border again (whose number we’d basically committed to memory at that point) and got one of the most frustrating responses ever: maybe. Maybe? This was the answer to “Can my husband make it across the border?” Maybe. The only illumination they provided to those five letters of frustration was this: It depends who is working. They may decide you have enough time to cross into the US before your passport expires or they may not. Either way, the sooner you get here, the better. This news came at 12 noon. By 12:05 we faced the grim reality: we’d be leaving the next day, 5 days earlier than planned.

This news also came mid-workday for me and so, despite having a mountain to climb, I had to continue on with day, feet planted firmly at the base of the mountain until nightfall (the perfect time to start a climb). I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for both of us and our days of pulling all-nighters are solidly in our past. Staying up all night, working all day the next day, and then hitting the road sounded terrible. So, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. There’s nothing quite like a deadline to light a fire under you, eh? There’s also nothing quite like saying “Well, I did the best I could”. Case and point: garden shutdown:

Gardening in Alaska
Nailed it!

In addition to packing our life away for the next however many months, there was also the issue of the added day of going to the clinic in Anchorage that suddenly posed an even bigger issue than simply having to drive 16 hours for a test. Now it added to the gamble of our crossing. I called every single clinic again in the hopes of a mini-miracle and…we were able to get an appointment with the nearest clinic to the border AND they guaranteed results in 15-minutes! After which we could make the drive to the border, where we’d learn if our next step of the path would unfold in our favor.

Somehow, come 7 pm, we were in a place where we felt good enough to break for dinner at a friend’s house so we could say goodbye to everyone that night instead of the Adieu BBQ we’d planned (and shopped) for that coming weekend. We went home at a reasonable hour, did nothing further, and hit the hay with relative calm. The weeks of mayhem and planning prior had set us up surprisingly well. Still, when you’re leaving for months on end there are endless things to remember and as we hadn’t left for that long in the last few years, we were a little rusty. “Can this freeze?” I’d ask, holding up balsamic vinegar. “No! It’ll explode!” “Oh, yeah…”

The next day, we were up with the stars still out. The hustle was on. I still had to work but thankfully was able to swing a half-day. I stopped work at noon and got to packing. By 5 pm that evening, the car was packed, the house was stocked and secured, and somehow, 5 days earlier than planned, we were about to hit the road. We hadn’t even so much as bickered in the stress of it all. We were damn cool cucumbers considering we didn’t know if we’d even make it across the border. The stress of it hung in the air above us. What would we do if we didn’t make it across? I’d make the journey solo. I hadn’t been feeling so hot as we’d approached the journey and the idea of a 3,000-mile trip solo (plus the added 16-hour round trip to and from Anchorage to drop off The Chief) was less than appetizing. Still, somehow we were cool, man.

Alaskan Malamute
Cukes

5 pm isn’t what I would call my ideal start to a 3,000 + mile journey but…start it we did. Night quickly fell, as did a snow flurry. We ate dinner from a gas station and plodded on into…construction? By 10 pm I was calling our hotel to let them know that we’d be later than expected. “That’s OK honey, I’ll stay up for you. You just drive safely” said the sweet front desk agent. By midnight, we rolled into the lodge, exhausted. “Let me show you to your room, get in your car, and follow me. People always get lost.” Off we went following our guardian angel for the night and into bed, we fell. Our books laughed at us as we pretended to read a few sentences before falling fast asleep.

The next morning I was up early to get as much work done as I could before we hit the road. For a brief moment in time, I had found that I could suddenly work and read from the car without getting carsick. Apparently, that spell had worn off. Barf city, here we come! I shivered as I took Leto for a quick prance about the neighborhood. It was 15 degrees, icy and biting. By 9 am we were packed up and off to the clinic for our tests. When we arrived, they mentioned that we would be paying the fee, despite having insurance, since they were billing it differently as it was for travel. Mmmmmmsccuse me? $240 and 30-minutes later, we were off, COVID free, thankfully. So far, we’d made it through all of the hurdles we’d faced.
We’d packed our house in 24 hours
We’d gotten the dog his health certificate
We’d filed the paperwork
We’d registered with Canada
We’d come back negative
And now? The moment of truth.

A few miles before the border, dressed in our finest warm weather gear, showered and shorn, we stopped on the side of the road to let the Leto out and shake our worries off.

US Canada Border
Fingers crossed

It was now or never. Would they let us in? The Chief now had two strikes against him. It wasn’t looking good but we’d come this far. We had to try.

As we approached the border, my heart rate quickened. The border was slow that day, only one car lay ahead of us, which could either mean a guard who was grateful for light-duty or one who was bored and wanted to make their day more interesting by interrogating crossers (certainly, there was a multitude of options in-between but my black and white brain warned otherwise). The car in front of us was waved to the side for a full inspection. Gulp. I feared we’d reached the Day of the Bored Guard and as the Border had told us in our many, many calls “It’s all up to the guard who is working that day”.

So it was.

Delta Junction, AK
The outlook felt bleak

How did it go?

Tune in next time to find out.

See you in two weeks.

With love,

From Alaska

P.S. A huge thank you to you, sweet reader for coming along on this journey. If you love reading BTB please make sure to sign up at the top right of this page (see the picture below for details). You’ll never receive spam and your email will never be shared but you will always know when the latest entry drops and soon…that will be the only way to find out. More info to come but if you haven’t signed up yet, do so now (please). And…if you have, please feel free to share with friends.

How to Live in the Wilderness Forever

Step 1: Pack up your bags, sell off all that can’t fit within them, quit your jobs, bid adieu to your loved ones and head off.

Check.

California living
Or…stuff it all into storage

Step 2: Find your wilderness, be it deep in the heart of the Last Frontier or in the depths of the desert. Find what feels like home to you.

Check.

Living in alaskan wilderness
This guy, this place. First photo.



Step 3: Make it yours. Life off-grid is never easy, never cookie-cutter and sometimes, that’s damn frustrating but…at the end of the day, when you look at your home, it will be uniquely yours.

Check.

simple living alaska
Make sure you have a fluffy foreman to keep things skookum

Step 4: Leave

What?!
Wait, did you say leave?
Mmmhhhhhhhhhhmmmmmm.

Leave. For the last couple of years, due to that which shall not be named (*cough* COVID), we haven’t really left. Yes, we popped out to Hawaii when things felt safe to do so and I popped out to California when it felt a little less safe but my mental health required me to do so but overall, we’ve been home since 2018. 2018! Ack! In 2017, after three years of moving back and forth between Alaska and California, trying to make things work in both places simultaneously, a dear friend told me “Babe, I think you need to stay home for a year.” Just hearing her say that, I felt a wave of relief. We’d been scurrying about for so long that I still had an unpacked bag of bathing suits and shorts packed at our cabin from our trip to Ecuador. And so it was decided, we’d stay put for a while. In 2019, we unpacked years of travel and shuffling, shutting down the house in a panic and opening it just the same. We organized, we nested, we married and we stayed put. It was glorious.

everybody's living for the weekend
No more packing and unpacking. Finally, some breathing room.

Little did we know that Voldemort was on his way and we all know what happened in 2020. So now, almost three years after our last extended stay away from our beautiful life that sometimes feels a little too hard, we are about to Step 4: Leave.

Where to? The open road. We’ll be California-bound come next week just The Chief, Leto and I. We’ll have to pare down and pack tight and I can’t wait.

life in northern california
Take me to your beaches.

In this last week, The Chief will be busy putting the final touches on the addition before we leave, prepping for our awesome friends to come in and drywall and paint the space. It’s really coming along.

building in alaska
Photo cred: DE
building alaska
Let there be light! And…accidentally black vapor barrier 🙂

I will be working from home while tidying up all the loose ends. From securing rapid tests to be able to cross the border to making sure all of our non-freezable foods and goods are safely stored, the fridge is empty and the freezer is full, it’s going to be a busy week for us all. Leto will be on snow patrol.

So, how do you live in the wilderness forever? For me, you mix it up. Step 5 will obviously be Return but for a while at least, we are going to snag a little bucket hauling, generator running, fire building, 8-hour town trip breathing room. These last few years have been beautiful but no matter how much I love any place, I’ll always need a little space from it. Buh-bye location claustrophobia. Hello, open road!

That being said, BTB will be taking a few weeks off, to return in November to recount our tales to you, dear reader. Until then, I’ll be sending you love from the road and updates on Facebook and Instagram so make sure to stay tuned.

With love,

from Alaska

simple living alaska net worth
And a full woodshed, waiting for our return.

P.S. Aside from following on social media, the best way to support BTB is to subscribe (upper right-hand corner of this page) and share it with a friend. Please take a moment to sign up and share. I appreciate you!

P.P.S Sadly, Leto did not get the chance to practice his penmanship on any Vaccination Thank Yous BUT the offer still holds true. If you read last week’s post and feel inspired to get vaccinated, Leto will send you a personalized Thank You card. And…if you’re in it for the swag, stay tuned. Coming soon!

Two Weeks in Twenty One Photos

After the weeks-long ramp up to The Wedding, we all took a long, deep exhale.

Ladies night
Pooped pups

Then, it was back to work. The first order of business? Fall plans. The Chief and I had exactly one week before he shipped out down South to fight fire. We had an addition to build, laundry to do for him for the next month, bags to pack, and…I now had a house to shut down, and a serious road trip (unless I wanted to wait here solo until November for The Chief to arrive back home). 3,000 miles solo with a pup? No problem…right? After running through 10,000,000 scenarios for how to get everything done in time I chipped away at the logistical rat’s nest that can be trying to leave in Fall and started small. Where would my plant babies live?

Houseplants in Alaska
Hey, cuties! Don’t worry, they found a home.

Our focus shifted to the addition. With a small break in the weather, The Chief shored up the blocking and bracing and I got to painting. The next day, we installed the floor.

Painting subfloor
Make hay while the sun shines, they say. Laundry and painting.

And then promptly covered it as the weather shifted (#classic). Throughout the day and into the night, we rushed out ever so often to poke the low spots and watch the resulting waterfalls.

Addition

In an effort to deal with the gloomy weather, I went on a wander, exploring new avenues off the beaten path of my daily rounds.

Kennicott River
It’s gorgeous, I know but…no sun is no bueno for this gal.

These cheery guys helped a bit. I call this one Balding Dryas.

Dryas Drummondii
Do you see it?

Returning home to a whole wall built also helped.

Four wheels on a gravel road
A wall comprised mostly of windows? Now that’s my kind of wall.

Ending the day looking at three walls?! That required some high-fives, hoots, n’ hollers.

Four walls
Many hands, light work. It’s amazing what can happen in a day.

Despite the rain and the cold, these tough cookies persisted, and a few days later…

Building in Alaska

The roof was on! Added plus? I learned how to spell Biththene (pronounced Bitch-uh-thane).

That night, listening to the pitter-patter on the new roof, the call came. Chris would ship out…never.

Huh?

In a logistical spin on things neither one of us could have predicted, suddenly, The Chief would be home sweet home with Leto and me. We both took a serious exhale. The mania of the last few weeks of prep, wonder, worry (on my part) and stress was done. Sort of, but also, all of our plans were suddenly caput. A blank slate lay before us. So, what did we do?

We did something we haven’t done in years(!?!?!). We went out to The Glacier. Leto was fully impressed and also fully pissed that we hadn’t made him privy to the fact that there has been year-round ice around him for the last two years.

Kennicott, Alaska
Glacier bound

The next day, by the grace of everything that is holy in this world, it was sunny. Even getting woken up at 6 am on a Sunday to a fire call (everyone is OK) couldn’t hamper the good vibes the sun was putting out. Leto and I soaked it in. I wore shorts. My husband was here to stay. All was right in our little world.

Backcountry Alaska

The next morning our wake-up call was equally jarring but with a happy surprise: the driveway gravel had arrived! Potholes be damned. Things were looking brighter.

Off-grid construction
Bedroom view

Later that day, I had my last call with the group of women I’ve been meeting with for the last seven weeks. Life is better with sisterhood and accountability and this gathering served up both.

Alexis Doss
Big love, ladies.

The rest of the week was spent wrapping up the addition and…prepping for the next task at hand: Town. It had been a while since we broke out our Road Warrior boots and so, in true off-grid fashion, we left at 6 am Friday morning, got to town by 2pm, got blood tests, doctor’s visits, and then…started shopping.

Fall in Alaska
The drive out was GORGEOUS.

Our goal? 5 windows and a door, electrical and flooring. The end result?

I learned so much more about electrical than I ever wanted:

Butt splice

I found out that the perfect way to take a quick rest while home improvement shopping is to try on bathtubs.

Lowe's
I may or may not have scared the heck out of an old man as I crawled out of my bath nap.

Leto continued to be utterly terrified of all things Town and refused to get out of the car.

Malamute puppy
Really?
Alaskan Malamute
Really.

Somehow, we got 5 windows and the perfect door loaded into the truck plus electrical odds and ends (no butt slicers though, sorry) and all the flooring to finally tie the whole house together (flooring they had on hand solely because it was a return). ‘Twas a good haul and after 10 hours of shopping, we called it quits. Well, first sushi, then quits.

The next day, we left Town. On the drive we saw patches of sun and then, this perfect representation of the weather as of late: sun trying to break through the clouds, slowly being overpowered by grey all day.

Weather in Alaska
Incoming! Watch out, sunshine!

Finally, we made it back home all in one piece, only to find the tent covering our tools, not so all in one piece.

Off-grid building
Whoopsies!

The highs and lows of life off-grid never seem to end and the only constant here is change. There are grand achievements followed by grand frustrations. It can be a rollercoaster of emotions but…but…we focus on the good (most of the time). We’d made it home. We’d made it through stressful situations (read: figuring out how to wire our house, shopping when social anxiety kicked in….you name it) without getting in so much as a squabble, and Leto, though a bit traumatized, was happy to be home. We settled into a pizza and movie night, just the three of us. And while today awoke us with grey, I see a little sun peeking through because tomorrow, it’s two years since this sunny day. And instead of wishing him my love from thousands of miles away, worrying over his safety, we get to be here, together, where it all started.

Wedding in Alaska
The Lion’s Roar

All my love to you, sweet Chief.

With love to you too, sweet reader.

from Alaska.

Alaska music scene

Tell Them I’m a Good Kisser

All my life, music has moved me. It has transported me, lifted me in its arms, and taken me where I needed to be. It has been my saving grace, my sanity, and the place I have felt a true sense of freedom.

As a little kid, if I was feeling sad or lonely, I’d just start singing to myself and I’d either guide myself go deeper into the emotion or help myself fly away from it.

When I was maniacally sending in my college applications as a teen, with only minutes to go, it was my Mom who reminded me: “Sing, Julia. Sing.” I sang to myself as I uploaded the last attachments, undoing the tizzy I had wound myself up into.

When I’ve walked down city streets alone at night or traipsed through the woods solo, I’ve sung to myself to bring comfort and calm, and courage.

When I’ve needed to process something but haven’t had the words, I’ve let the song come out instead.

Music comes from the heart. It breaks it and strengthens it again, growing older and wiser and richer each time.

Still, as much as it is a comfort and a joy, music has also challenged me. Performing has taken the thing I feel most passionate about, most connected to myself in and made that private love public. Still, most of my life, aside from solos in choir and playing with my Dad or Brother, my voice was blended into a the harmonies of many. I didn’t often feel the pressure of the spotlight until…

Six summers ago, I sang my first songs with the local band. While I’d been in a band in Sonoma County prior to unintentionally moving to Alaska, we had yet to perform.

Game on.

Alaska music scene
Thanks for the awesome photos, Luke!

As I jumped back into the crowd after my stint on stage, one of our dear friends pulled me aside. “Jesus, woman! You’ve got some pipes.” He then looked at The Chief who was smiling ear to ear and said “Did you know she could do that?!”. It was the first time since high school that I’d performed and I felt like I was walking on air. Transported once again. The Chief, who certainly had heard me singing around our house, knew I could sing. I’d breakfast-time serenaded him from the other room while distractedly singing and cooking but to actually sit down, learn a song and give it my all? He hadn’t heard it. In fact, despite singing being one of the loves of my life, most people I loved hadn’t heard me sing until our wedding two years ago.

Alaskan wedding
Wild in Love Photo by Kate Lamb

And I mean really sing. Not sing in a choir, singing songs I was told to sing. Instead, really sing because I was singing songs that were for me. Songs that spoke to my heart.

After that first night with the band in the bar I was hooked…but doubt crept in.

What if they didn’t want me to come back?
What if they were just being nice?
What if they didn’t like the songs I liked?


It turned out that they did want me back but lest I be too hasty, I didn’t want to overstep. They were a rock band with a punk-ish flair and I was already singing their rock songs with a blues/jazz twist. I didn’t want to push it.

Could I have?
Certainly.
Did they encourage me to?
Mmmmmhhhmmm!
Did they ask me to choose songs I liked?
Yep!
Did I do it?
You get where this is going…

I wasn’t the lead singer. I’d come in for harmonies and a few diddies and head back into the crowd. No responsibility, no say, right?

Kennicott National Park
Looks like a painting behind us, doesn’t it?! Thank you, Alaska.


The very next year, the lead singer didn’t return for a summer, and suddenly…I was the lead singer. The band changes a little every year, depending on the musicians in the town which is something I’ve never seen before and never would have thought of. I absolutely love that! It’s also why I never assumed I’d be the front woman. I mean, even if our Lead Singer/Guitarist did leave, certainly someone else would step in, right?! But suddenly, that someone was me. Finally (finally!) I started suggesting songs. I tried to find songs that rang true for me that I thought the band would hopefully like. It worked! Slowly but surely we’d floated ideas of the Alabama Shakes, Heartless Bastards, White Stripes, etc. and even learned and performed a few of them.

Alaska music scene
Thanks for the picture, Jeremy P!

The crowds changed a little and at first, I thought I was doing it wrong. It wasn’t as rowdy, or at least not as often. People requested songs I didn’t know and I felt embarrassed because they wanted punk rock Otis Redding and I was giving them Aretha Otis Redding. But…I was who I was. I am who I am.

Last weekend, six years after my first show with the band, we played our first show of this season. We all picked our favorites from our existing repertoire, a repertoire that held our evolution in its story. Everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Amy Winehouse. We also added a few newbies just for this show and they were and are some of my favorite songs ever.

Midnight in Harlem by Tedeschi Trucks Band
Good Kisser by Lake Street Dive and

I wasn’t sure how the crowd would like them. Would they be too pop? Too girly? Did it matter?

It turns out it didn’t matter (spoiler alert, I know). Halfway through the two-hour show…the dancing began and despite thunderstorms and rainfall, it didn’t stop. From rainbows to a downright downpour, I watched faces new and old dance the night away to the songs we were lucky enough to play for them. Here’s a short clip from our friend and event organizer, Dave Hollis:

Love the flyer, Davey!

We closed the two-hour show + fundraiser with “Good Kisser” (which starts out “If you’re gonna tell them everything, tell them I’m a good kisser…”. Hence the title of this post) and as I began, I heard hoots and hollers from the knowing crowd. Our crowd. ‘Twas not too pop after all. It’s a beautiful thing, that cycle of a song. From the first time I heard it and it struck a chord in me to learning it, introducing it to the band, them learning it, us learning it as a group and making it our own to then playing it and hearing those few first words strike joy in someone else who was also struck the first time they heard the song…that’s beautiful. To hear the joy that recognition brings, that’s something pure I’ll never pass up. You never know when you pick your songs what will resonate, who will show up and how they will feel. You can only play what makes you feel good and hope that translates outwards to your crowd.

Local Band Variation #798,654,324


Over the years, the people who have made up our crowd have changed. I’ve watched people scrunch their noses, turned off by the music, and I’ve watched people come in off of the street, called in by the music. We can’t serve everyone. We can’t be everything to everyone. If you need a true punk rock evening, our old frontman was your man (and he will be back for a stint this summer!). If you need something more like jazz+pop+soul+rock, I’m your girl. Neither? That’s fine too. The point? The one that took me six years to realize?

Be you.
Your crowd will come.
Not everyone will love you.
That is OK.
You are your own crowd and you are perfect, just as you are.
Besides, there’s no one else like you and…

It’s way more fun to show up when you show up genuinely as yourself.


With love,

from Alaska

The Potato, McCarthy, Alaska
Troopers!



P.S. Thank you to everyone who came out and danced in the rain (or under cover) and supported KCHU! We love you guys! And a huge thank you to my bandmates. I love playing music with y’all.

P.P.S. So…what’s on your playlist these days?

Cars for Sale Facebook (How I Googled My Way to Freedom)

Do you ever look back on your younger self and think “Oh, honey…what were you thinking?!” This past winter, as The Chief pulled out of our driveway on his now annual January trip to Town for supplies, I had a sudden feeling of panic.

Was it because I was all alone in the wilderness with nary a neighbor nearby?
Nope.

Was it because the winter before the temps had dropped to 50 below the second he left?
Nope.

Was it because I suddenly felt the paralyzing reality of our distance from help, if need be?
Yep. And as I watched our only vehicle roar away, I realized our one ticket out had just been cashed.

living in the alaskan wilderness
Beautiful isolation



Cars.

Out here, cars are a different breed. There are Town Cars and Beaters and the two don’t travel the same trail. A Town Car is one that is reliable enough to get you to Town (aka Anchorage). A Beater is a car that often is not even road-worthy. Registration? Naw. All lights working? Maybe. It’s a car that you hope will get you to work each day. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. Breakdowns are constant, repairs as well and we all shift and shimmy our ways through the various modes of transportation we have, ranging from cars to four-wheelers, bikes, our feet and beyond.

cars for sale on facebook
Bluebell. My first Alaskan vehicle.

When I moved here, the mode of transportation I employed the most was hitching a ride or walking. The Chief was always driving the fire truck, as the State had hired our VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) to Firewise and patrol the area so I thought little about our reality: we had no car. No Town Car, not even a Beater.

Growing up in Sonoma County, a car was the ultimate freedom. We always lived outside of town, miles and miles away from the nearest friend, leaving me locked into home. By the time I was 14, I was working near full-time in order to save for my freedom ticket: my first car. I absolutely adored driving. I’d head out to the beach for sunrise and sunset every day, just to feel that expansive feeling of independence.

Still, when I moved here, I thought little of leaving. Getting around our town was an adventure, a constant shifting of moving parts. Logistics, logistics, logistics. It wasn’t until we got home that first winter that it hit me: I was stuck. We had arrived home in a fire truck that had been in Town for some engine work but once it was safely back at the VFD, I took stock of our inventory at home:

Two snowmachines
One non-road-worthy car that wasn’t currently in operation.

Hmmm…

As The Chief took his snowmachine for a test run and I watched him disappear down the driveway I felt panic rush over me. I started crying. What in the hell did I just do?! The only mode of transportation I had was something I didn’t even know how to start and if I didn’t like the incredibly huge life change I had just made (moving to Alaska), I was going to what? Ride a snowmachine to Anchorage? Suddenly, catching a ride everywhere didn’t feel so footloose and fancy free. While The Chief promised me that if I ever wanted to leave, he would always find me a way, I still felt myself in a precarious situation.

Thankfully, I didn’t want to leave and we did finally get the one Beater working. I learned to drive a stick and when that broke down on my way to work one morning, we realized the obvious: we needed a car. That endeavor was interesting, to say the least and is still one of the most Alaskan things I’ve ever been a part of (other than this). We bought a truck and within a few months, the transmission went out. Thankfully, we were able to finally find our Golden Girl and things seemed to settle.

Life in Alaska
Feelin’ good.

We had transportation, freedom. All was well. Until…

This last winter, watching The Chief drive away.

Living here, this far out has its joys and its curses. Being so far from medical care is one of the less amazing parts and as I watched The Chief leave this year, I realized that I couldn’t push the worry out of my mind any longer. With him gone, I was stranded. Normally, there’s a neighbor nearby who I know would help me in any situation but this year, the nearest neighbor was 30 minutes away. Something in me just broke. I felt trapped and, in all reality, I was. I needed freedom.

Enter: freedom.

Subaru Crosstrek Anchorage Alaska
Wrong way, Leto.

This past weekend, in our true Road Warrior style, The Chief and I found freedom in the shape of a brand new car. A new car?! What are you crazy or sumthin’, Juju? Well, not in this scenario, no. It turns out that due to, you know that thing that shall not be mentioned that happened last year, buying a new car and a used car is about the same price. We looked for months and after tons of research, I realized that our best option might actually be a new car. It was and it is. This past Friday, after a long week at work, The Chief came home at 7 pm and by 8:30 we were fed, packed and on the road to Anchorage. Thoroughly no longer in our 20’s we agreed to camp halfway. As the sun did her dance of short slumber, we pulled into our home for the night.

Living in the Alaskan Wilderness

It’s amazing how even a gravel pit in Alaska can have stunning views, and it did, but at 1 am, we were almost too tired to appreciate them. Almost. What we appreciated even more was our little snuggle bug, Leto, who promptly placed himself between the two of us, got into my sleeping bed and conked out. The road sounds nearby were putting him in a panic but it was nothing a Leto Sandwich couldn’t cure.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
That’s better, Dad. Mini derp.


The next morning we were up at 6:30, shivering as we packed up camp and made coffee. By 7:30 we were on the road again and three hours later, we were swinging into Anchorage for a quick change of clothes and a “hello” to our gracious hosts. Then it was straight to the car dealer where we stayed until 5 pm that evening. Leto was a true champ, charming all of the car buyers as he sauntered about the showroom (a showroom completely devoid of cars as there are almost zero to be had). After a hefty amount of paperwork and coffee, it was done. We were car owners, again! Freedom! I smiled ear to ear as I drove our little babe home.

Alaskan Malamute
Leto, pissed, wondering why he hasn’t ridden in his new rig yet.



Home.

Even an 8-hour drive, again on very little sleep, couldn’t dampen my spirits. We were headed home, caravan style with two vehicles! We wouldn’t have to constantly do the transportation shuffle. If our truck wasn’t working, we wouldn’t be stranded. We had options. I felt an ease come over me as we pulled into our driveway at 8:30 pm. Full circle.

So, am I extremely grateful for our new rig?!
You betcha.

Do I wish we would have done this years ago?
Uh huh! Yet the reality is, we weren’t in a place financially to make that happen. I’ve long enjoyed the comfort of a friend’s fancy car but never thought we’d be able to pull it off (and take it as no small blessing that we are finally able to). So…we lived in uncertainty and did our best to handle all that life threw our way, as we all do.

And finally, freedom.

Cars for sale on facebook



With love,

from Alaska

P.S. What are your car conundrums? Do you live footloose and fancy free or prefer a rig that will get you from A to B? Let me know

When to start planting in Alaska: A tale of a tardy gardener

When to start planting in Alaska

Sometimes, you nail it.

Sometimes, it feels more like you…tape it.

This year’s garden may have been put together with more Scotch tape than a kiddo wrapping her first Christmas present but it is finally done.

Done.

While I know you’re probably thinking “Julia, a garden is never done” I would agree but…to me, I’ve reached the finish line and from here on out it’s just lemonade and cookies and pats on the back from myself for another marathon complete.

Did I spread all the wildflower seed I’d intended?

Nope.

Do I have enough soil left for potatoes?

Sure don’t.

Do I care?

OK, yes, of course but…overall?

Nope.

Because, it’s done.

16 easy steps to gardening in alaska
how to build a greenhouse in alaska

How to Garden in Alaska

While it’s a perennial mad dash each and every year (usually over a weekend) for some reason, this year posed instead as a daily dash, extending over weeks on end. The weekends I should have been planting, I was gone and gone again and the weekends prior had been too cold. Finally, the sun and I aligned our schedules. I was home, she was out and it was time to start planting in every nook and cranny of time that I could muster. This meant getting to work early so I could finish early so that after each 10-hour day, I would have 2 hours to plant, do chores and get dinner ready. This being the worst mosquito year I’ve ever had the pleasure of being here for, each two hour dash included a 20 minute block of time for mosquito preparedness. I’d put on my tall socks, rain boots, long sleeves and overalls accompanied by a scarf, a hat and copious “bug dope”, despite the heat. Still, my protection did next to nothing and each night I’d head to bed, bitten to oblivion. It wasn’t until I’d endured a week of this that I finally thought to ask The Chief if we had bug nets. “Yep! There’s one in my pack.” I rolled my eyes at myself and donned the iconic lewk.

A little more secure from the bugs, I jumped back in with new muster. They’d buzz about my net, a viable storm of mosquitoes and White Sox and Noseeums (No See Ums, get it?! Because they are tiny biting jerks you can barely see!) incessantly buzzing in my ears. “We’re gonna get you!” they’d whisper. Yet with my new apparel, they were only right about 50% of the time. I’ll take those odds. Yes, my neck still looked like a junior vampire couldn’t quite find the right place to dig in for dinnertime but there were no more black eyes from eyelid bug bites and that, my friends, was movin’ on up!

where to go four wheeling
Smooth sailing…4-wheeler style



Still, despite my new attire and my schedule, I felt like I was wading through quicksand. After my two hours were up each day, I’d look around and feel as if zero progress had been made. Sure, I’d added copious amounts of nutrients and dirt and compost to the beds. Sure, I’d hauled all the bags between stations and felt as if my arms were about to come off of my body. Sure, there was some visible change but still, there were no plants in the ground and caring for my starts had become a full-time job as an aphid infestation took hold. Dish soap to the rescue! Sort of.

It felt futile but despite my frustration, I kept at it, every day and every day The Chief would come home and say “Great work baby. You are killing it. This is a lot.” Some days I’d look at my plants, struggling under the aphid attack or strangling under their root-bound empire and think “It’s too much. I’ll never get this all in. Maybe I should just bail on gardening this year” but then I’d think of my plant babes that I (and a friend, when we went to Hawaii) had been nurturing since they first awoke from their seeded slumber back when the ground was still snow-laden.

Raised bed gardening in Alaska
I call this one Searching for Spring

I couldn’t let them down now. So, I persisted and after two weeks of a daily dash and two weekends spent solidly soil-bound, it’s done!

A few days ago I my first nasturtium bloomed and two weeks ago, the first zucchini and the necessary accompanying flowers came to being. I pollinated the little green babes by hand and now see traces of the grand squash of summers past. The cabbage, grumpy as could be in their containers have been stretching their leafed limbs, settling into their new, much expanded, soil abode. Every day I look to see if the carrots have come up and each time try not to listen to the voice that says they should have been in ages ago because while it’s true, it doesn’t matter. They’re in now. Do what you can, little ones.

Gardening zones Alaska
Poppin’!
Gardening in Alaska tips
Hello, lovely!



It’s not the family feeding plus overflow to give away production I had anticipated when I sowed those seeds all the way back in April and it’s not comprised of solely things I grew from seed. Still, without those few additions, I wouldn’t have the brilliant begonia or the punk rock black dahlia that reminds me of our wedding who greet me on our porch every day.

How to garden in Alaska
Black Dahlia. Yes, please.
What vegetables grow best in Alaska
Do Begonias ALWAYS remind you of “Mrs. Doubtfire”?! Same.

And, years ago, I would never even have considered planting an entire garden from seed. It’s wild the standards we start to set for ourselves instead of simply looking back to appreciate how much we’ve grown.

So, no, it’s not the “perfect” garden I imagined, whatever that means, but it’s a garden that, slowly but surely, came to being. This morning, The Chief and I shared the first snap pea from the garden. Even if it was all just for that one pea, it would be worth it.

What is season for gardening

In our world of constant and instant gratification, it’s easy to forget that some things require slow and steady work to pay off and in a place of scarcity for time and warmth, like Alaska, it’s hard to not just want it all right now. Just like when I’d train in the gym for a day and run to the mirror expecting immediate results, I caught myself walking past seeds I had just sown earlier that day hoping for some light speed germination. It’s a good check for myself, provided by this constant place of checks and balances. Growth, of all kinds, takes time. The second we gets too far ahead of ourselves, we’re brought down to earth but…earth is a lovely place to be.

May your process be slow and steady and ever forward, even if they require a few steps back.

With love,

from Alaska

P.S. So…how does your garden grow?

The Best Memorial Day Plans: How to Make ‘Em, How to Break ‘Em

Oops, I Britney Spears-ed the heck out of this weekend. I did it you guys, I did it again. I tried to plan. Looking back, I fell prey to planning long before this weekend began, into the sticky trap she so carefully lays beneath us. How could I have known? Well, I could have thought back to EVERY other time I’ve tried to steer life in a particular direction and done an After Action Review on that outcome. But…that’s no fun. Better to fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, I’m probably going to do it forever. So, I did!

You see, The Chief has been working non-stop for two weeks. We love to exaggerate, don’t we? Non-stop? Whatever, Julia. But this time, it’s pretty dang close to accurate. The Chief started his summer job and it’s pretty much been bangarang, Rufio style, for two weeks. We both wake up at 5:30, he’s out the door by 7:15 and I don’t see him again for another 12 hours. So, when the boss said they’d have a long weekend, we were stoked. I started quietly counting down the days until we’d have time to say more than a “Good morning” and “Goodnight” to one another. Oh, and I started planning.

The best laid plans are…no plans at all



First, we’d relax. I’ve become a pro, you know. Then, we’d get some stuff done around the house, adventure on the new property, take Leto hiking, eat good food, hang with friends…oh, and discuss alllllllll of the business we don’t get to when he’s working like a maniac. “Shall we review our healthcare, dear?” doesn’t really bring all the boys to the yard when your boy has been doing hard labor all day but it’s a little easier on the ears when those ears haven’t heard jackhammering all day. It was going to be lovely. The perfect mix of work and play and just time to be together. Right?!

Of course not! Instead, we went straight into business mode. You see, we have big mouths in which we’ve broken off a lot to chew on: a new property, looking for a new car and…an addition to our current house. It’s a lot but it’s a lot of all good things and so, not having gotten to plan as a team for a while, we sat down and brainstormed. Reality set in: this summer is an insane one for contractors and if we were really going to get this addition done, we’d need help. So, after mapping out the plans over far too much coffee, we made the call to a contractor friend to see if he could fit us in at all.

“No.”

Harsh, bro! Harsh as a mouthful of hot sauce. *No babies were harmed in the taking of this photo



Just kidding, he was far more effusive than that but basically, the answer was “Are you guys crazy?”. Buuuuuuttttt, since he loves us so much he made an offer: if we had all the materials on site, he would fit us in on days where his crew ran out of materials on their other jobs. It was good news, better than we had hoped in a year of busy beavers and then it dawned on us what it meant: a Town trip. A Town trip, in the morning.

The four day weekend o’ fun melted away as we realized that this was our only shot, our only open slot of time enough, to travel together to get it done. So, we did. The Chief made the lumber lists, I found cars and materials and we packed up the truck with trash and recycling. We left the next morning, waking up at 4:30 to hit out 6 am departure (we made it out before 7 am so…I’m calling that a “win”). We had to make it to Town to pick up our lumber order before they closed for the long weekend plus any chores we needed to complete by closing time so we could head back the next day. Thankfully, it was raining, scratch that, SNOWING in some stretches of the drive. Welcome to September, folks. And thankfully, loading lumber in the rain is SUPER fun.

Singing in the Rain? More like swearing in the rain.

OK, sarcasm aside, it all worked out. We were able to put in a lumber order and collect it all within 24 hours, all while driving 300 miles in between.

Despite the rain and snow and wintery vibes, we warmed up that evening with a dinner out with friends, filled with delicious food, craft cocktails and dessert. It was amazing and even felt a little “normal”, whatever the heck that means these days. The next morning, we took off at the breakneck speed of a noon departure and after shopping for odds and ends we were on the road by 3:30 and home by 10:30, where we were welcomed by neighbors and pups and pizza!

So, was it the perfect weekend I had planned?! Nope. Not even close. Did I know better? Yep. Did I plan anyways? Yep. Still, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have anything to compare to because, despite it not being what I had hoped for, the joy of a trailer full of lumber that will eventually turn our tiny house into a slightly less tiny house rates so, so much higher.

So, how did you fare this weekend?

Cheers to the unexpected, which sometimes ends up better than you ever planned.

With love,

from Alaska

And from Emo Leto in the rain

StonerMute

After the most epic year of snow I’ve ever seen, Spring has finally sprung. While Spring in Alaska is more of a slog than a sprint, I’ll take it. Onto the next season we go! We’ve had 50 degree days, sunshine and the constant drip drop of melting snow. Every day, slowly but surely, that which slept in a snowy embrace awakens. Usually, everything that’s uncovered is welcome. Sure, there may be a stray tool that didn’t make it in the shop or an errant piece of cardboard that missed the fire. Sure, you have to wait as it melts, freezes, and melts again until you can finally get these items out but hey, playing lost and found is what Spring is all about.

Found! Did someone lose a leg bone?

That is, until Leto decided to up the ante.

A little over a week ago, I went outside to check on Leto before a meeting for work. There he was, under the house, soaking up the sun rays. He looked relaxed. A little too relaxed. Mid-double take I noticed that he was rocking ever so slightly. I slip-slid my way along the icy underbelly of the house (aka Leto’s Lair) and immediately knew something was off. His tongue was sticking out of his mouth and the rocking was constant. He could barely open his eyes in greeting. I offered him a treat to get his attention but…nothing. If you know Leto, you know he’s perhaps the most food motivated dog in the world. My Momtuition kicked into high gear. Finally, I got him to stand up and head indoors where I could better assess the situation. He stumbled to his feet and weeble-wobbled his way up the Ramp of Doom as I stood over him, guiding his way.

My mind was racing. I’d heard him and his friend yelp while playing earlier that day. Had he hurt himself? He didn’t seem to be in pain. I ran my hands over his body, checking for any signs of injury. I found none. As I took my hands away from him, he fell to the ground, unable to support his own weight. I looked at the clock. My meeting was about to start. I let them know I wouldn’t be coming to that or anything else until I knew what was going on. Something was wrong.

I called The Chief and asked him to come home. Tears welled up in my eyes as panic set in but then, something else took over. After so many years of so many emergencies, my brain went into autopilot. Make the calls, pack the bags, handle the situation.

1 pm is apparently the worst possible time to have a vet emergency in Alaska. Every vet I called was out on lunch or busy with a patient. Thankfully, there was a vet 5 hours away (our closest option nowadays. Dr. Kimi, come back!) with an emergency number. I called and she texted back. I explained Leto’s symptoms and she said “Sounds like he’s high. Give him lots of water and text me if anything changes.” The only problem was, I couldn’t get him to drink a drop and I couldn’t think of where he would have gotten it. I scoured the outside for anything that could have gotten him in such a “groovy” mood. Nothing. To add to the mystery, the compost was undisturbed, the mechanical fluids were intact…zero clues. Plus, he’d been with me all day, in the house, under the house on a line or out with me when we took a short walk.

I tried another vet and eventually got through. They recommended coming in. 7 hours away. After feeling pretty rebuffed by the first vet (she had asked next to zero questions and said it “should be fine”) and told to immediately come in by the second, things were vascillating in my heart between “I’m sure he’s fine” and “He’s about to die.” So, I texted a video of him to a friend who is also a vet. She called me right away and started running me through all the questions.

How are his pupils? Are they dilating?

No.

How are his gums? Pink? Responsive to pressure?

Pink. Responsive.

Is he eating or drinking?

No.

Can he walk?

No.

We talked through the possibilities and they ranged from mild to terrifying. Given our distance from the nearest medical care, if it did end up being something serious and we waited, chances were we wouldn’t make it in time. That made the choice for us (a choice I’d pretty much already made the second I saw him). We were headed in. Time to get the show on the road. I started packing us up as The Chief headed out to get the truck ready. One problem: we were out of fuel. So, he gathered our cans and sped off on the snowmachine to borrow some. I moved through the house in a calculated daze. I’d done this so many times that it was almost second nature. Hope for a night, pack for a week. By the time I had us all situated, The Chief was back and our neighbor was over wishing us good luck. 20 minutes and a change of clothes later (diesel isn’t the best smelling perfume) I watched as The Chief carried our fur baby down the Ramp of Doom.

I lost it.

I’d watched him do the same thing with our Lou the entire week before she passed and it broke my heart to see it again. I went into the freezer shed to grab last minute items and to pull myself together. I sent out a little prayer to the Universe, dried my eyes, took a deep breath and steadied myself. Time to go.

7 hours, dozens of glaciers (one that had turned into a foot-wide, foot-deep running river) and endless check-ins to make sure our little man was still breathing later, we arrived. The entire drive Leto had barely moved. He wouldn’t get out to pee or drink and his über expressive ears barely twitched when we said his name. Our vet friend had changed her plans that night in order to meet us and didn’t even flinch at the fact that we wouldn’t be getting in until 10 pm. The Chief gently picked up our babe from the back seat and slowly, steadily made his way across the skating rink-esque parking spot to the house.

Leto loves new places and upon being set on the examination mat, he started to come to and then…he started to pee. Everywhere. Quick lady she is, our friend grabbed a cup and gathered a sample as he stumbled outside. It was time to start the detective work. 5 minutes later, the truth came out: stoned. Our little Malamute was stoned out of his mind. He rang true for THC in his pee test. No government jobs for this kiddo.

Ruh Roh!

Relief poured over all of us. For the first time in 10 hours, I could breathe easy. My babe would be OK, he was just totally and completely blitzed.

The epic pee time seemed to wake him up a little more and though he walked like a drunk, he was walking again, wagging his tail and drinking water. We spent the rest of the night catching up and learning a few vet tricks, like how to take his femoral pulse. In addition to seeing us at 10 pm, our friend continued her awesomeness and offered us to stay with her. As we made the bed, Leto came running into the room and jumped onto it. His first feat of near normal mobility. The boy loves a good sleepover. The next morning Leto crawled into bed with us, tail wagging, like nothing had even happened. As the Chief, Leto and I all cuddled in bed I felt myself relax into the reality that our babe was actually OK.

Please don’t tell me you’re moving onto beer now. Claiming his Uncle Dan’s booze.


Right?

A few days later, home again, I peeked at him under the house and what did I see? Rocking Leto, eyes closed, tongue out.

Dang it!

I went inside and told The Chief and his Uncle Dan that we had a repeat offender on our hands. I brought him inside and we all gave him love and pets, hoping to make his trip an easy one. Even though it still was hard to see him that way, we were able to make jokes this time. That is until he suddenly started drooling profusely, then dry heaving. My mind flashed to fear. What if it wasn’t a repeat offense. What if he’d actually eaten something poisonous this time and we’d just been sitting there watching him, wasting precious time?

Thankfully, the drooling and dry heaving stopped and it was clear that he had simply raided his stash again.

Over a week later and two days of StonerMute in the books, we still have no idea where he found the goodies. All we can hope is that he finished them off for good. Oh Spring, how you uncover the most wondrous of things. In the end, the nearer vet was right, he was stoned but I’d take a trip to Town any day of the year to know our little man was OK. Living this far out has its advantages but moments like these highlight the disadvantages. It’s a true life of living lock step with faith that everything will work out while simultaneously knowing that life is full of the unexpected. Thankfully, the unexpected left us unscathed this time and I can’t explain how grateful I am for that.
Thank you.

With love,

from Alaska

and from the Northern Lights



P.S. Any stoners on your watch? Share your story in the comments!

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