DIY

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!

P.P.S. If you aren’t yet a Beneath the Borealis subscriber, would you take a moment to sign up? Top right of the page. If you are a subscriber, would you please share BTB with a few of your friends? Thank you!

Hiking in Alaska

DIY Cabins: Life, Alaska Style

I love the allure of DIY, don’t you? Do It Yourself. Hell yea! I’m going to…probably.

In my life in California, my DIY consisted sometimes of actually DIYing and most often of scrolling through countless projects on Pinterest until I felt like I had actually accomplished something. Similar to scrolling through to select an exercise video and then feeling so accomplished having just looked at others exercising that you head to the kitchen for a snack. What a workout! DIY was something novel to me. Something I would (occasionally) choose to do. I’d research my project of choice, head to the craft or hardware store, and come evening, I’d have something somewhat resembling the project I’d endeavored to complete.

Fast forward to Alaska and DIY has taken on a whole new meaning. I realized the shift immediately from the moment I wanted to camp out at a friend’s house and spent the day pick-axing through rocks to make a level area.

Alaska
Pick happy

Nothing here is hand-delivered unless it’s delivered by your hands. For this little lady, who was used to small-scale projects being completed in one day, I didn’t quite understand bigger projects or why they took so damn long.

Proximity to supplies
Timing
Weather
Money
Supplies
Time
Resources
Did I say the weather?

All of this and more impact our lives out here far more than I ever could realize immediately. I looked at projects to be done, planned with The Chief and couldn’t understand why we were still in the gathering of materials stage months later. Still, even as I came to understand that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, that things would simply take more time, I didn’t want to click my heels to leave. So, I started with what we had and settled into where I was.

Hiking in Alaska
Deep down the wormhole…

Wedding in Alaska
…with this guy.


I liked the hard life, I knew that for sure, but damned if it didn’t drive me crazy sometimes. Slow and steady is less my speed. I prefer one and done and move onto the next.

So, when we started our living room project LAST fall…

Building in Alaska
Phase I: Painted + New Flooring

Building in Alaska
Phase II: Ceiling Trim

I was impatient for it to be done. But guess what? It finally (almost) is!

Building in Alaska
Phase III: Sealed Cracks, Touched Up Paint, Baseboards and Trim

Building in Alaska
Finally.

Building in Alaska



Yes, we need to clean up the battery box and yes we need to re-hang our art and yes, we need to build the shelves we’ve been talking about for a year but I’d be a liar if I said I couldn’t see the finish line for the first time ever. It’s there.

The truth is, as I sat back and admired our hard work, I realized that this wasn’t just the end of a 6-month long project, it was the end of a 6-year project. We had started our living room project 6 years ago when I first arrived. We started here, with dueling couches, an OSB (read: similar to plywood) floor covered in a rug permanently covered in dog hair. Here, with single-pane windows that sometimes opened, a cloth ceiling, and more guns than I’d ever seen in my life (but at least now we were off the floor). We started here, with a place we both felt immediately at home in, with a person we both felt we’d found our soul in, with a ready canvas and slowly, the picture began to come to life.

Building in Alaska
Dueling

Building in Alaska
…Couches

Since then, we’ve made constant upgrades, changes, arrangements, and re-arrangements, trying to finally settle into our space.

Like this Christmas edition:

Building in Alaska

and this Summer edition:

Building in Alaska

and this Fall corner:

Building in Alaska

and this Winter coziness:

Building in Alaska

From here:

Building in Alaska

To here:

Building in Alaska


And you know what? We are finally there. Well, near there, but let’s call it good. The end is truly in sight.

Sure, there’s much more to do the moment you step out of the living room but for the first time ever, two-thirds of our house is complete. Our bedroom feels like a little sanctuary and our living room finally feels complete and it brings me a deep sense of satisfaction. Yes, it took forever. Yes, it meant individual trips over months on end to finally get all of the materials here. Yes, it meant working in the cold, working on the weekends and countless hours checking the fire in the shop to make sure the temp hadn’t dropped and our stain wouldn’t freeze on the boards. Yes, it meant arguments and resolutions and the constant moving of things in and out, back and forth, up and down the Ramp of Doom in the slick Spring days and cold Winter nights.

Yes, it was a long endeavor but despite all of it, looking at the boards, each of which I bought, hauled, cut, stained, and installed with my husband brings me an immense sense of joy.

Building in Alaska
Look at those beauties!


This morning as I sit in our cozy home, there’s a deep feeling of contentment. Not from DIYing but from DITing. Doing It Together. I didn’t always feel motivated to do the work, sometimes The Chief didn’t either, yet together, we made it happen. I think more than anything, what I wanted most in life (even more than nailing a Pinterest-worthy creation) was a partner to do things with. I certainly didn’t anticipate finding this partnership in the Alaskan wilderness, off-the-grid and far away from everything I’d ever known but I am so glad to have stumbled upon it.

It’s not always easy, but it’s exactly what I needed.

With love,

from Alaska

Backcountry Alaska


P.S. What are you DIY/DIT-ing these days? How are your projects slowed or sped up based on your lifestyle?

Building Off Grid in Alaska: The Driveway Edition

Last fall, when I went to Town, The Chief painted our living room. Prior to leaving, I boxed up as much as I could to help him prep but on the day of, there were inevitably things to move and if you’ve ever moved things in a rush, you know what happened.

“Babe, have you seen my notebook?” I asked a week or so after I had returned and the dust had settled.
“The black one?”
“Yep.”
“The one you draw in every day?”
“Yep.”
“The one that’s always sitting right here?” Director’s Note: The Chief points to the side table in The Chester Family living room. All eyes are drawn to the location, hope and anticipation on their faces.
“Yep!”
“No, I haven’t seen that.”

Velvet pillow
Bare walls. The book always sat just to the right…


The hunt began. I can’t tell you how many times I looked for that damn book but my art stopped then and there until I found it. “Start in a new book!” you might be thinking to yourself and I agree, but my doggedly insistent side disagreed. That book or bust. I looked in every nook and cranny our house has and at 200 odd square feet (maybe), there aren’t that many places it could be. Still, I could not find it.

Until this weekend when I looked up and there it was.

Remodel
Ding ding ding!


Truth be told, I am certain to the center of my being that I scoured over that bookshelf time and time again but somehow, my Elf on the Shelf of a book found its way back and there she was. It felt a little witchy, like the time I had a dream in college that my rings were gone. I’d gotten them from a man in Berkeley who, upon meeting me, somehow knew I was wearing men’s socks even though my socks (indeed, men’s socks) were completely covered. He told me the rings were powerful. After the dream, I woke up and they were indeed gone. I tore my apartment apart. I’d been wearing them when I went to bed. No luck. The following weekend, I went to my boyfriend’s house. Freshly out of the shower, I lotioned up but the product was almost gone. I put my finger into the bottle to search for every last bit and what came out? My rings. Spooky.

So, spells, witchery or the truth that I am a terrible looker of things aside, the book was back. Oh, the simple joy of finding something once lost. I sat down with my old friend and stumbled upon an entry from exactly one year ago to the day:

“We went to Long Lake to look at property and we fell in love. The Chief looked at me as we approached the Lake and said ‘You just feel better out here, don’t you?’ I do. Once we’d snowshoed our way to the top of our favorite lot, a Bald Eagle flew overhead. The Chief took my hands in his and said ‘This is it.’ It was. It is.”

Love in Alaska
First picture on the property


Six weeks after that entry, after endless phone calls, emails, forms and signatures, hiccups and happenstance and help from our family, we closed on our property. Over 20 acres of raw land in the Alaskan wilderness were ours. We couldn’t believe it. After growing up in California where a small house on a tiny plot could cost upwards of $500k, my dreams of owning a house felt more like pipe dreams. Yet, it had happened. We were landowners, The Chief and I.

Lantern
One year ago, making a wish…
Make a wish
Send it off…see what happens

The daydreaming began. The first goal? Access. Oh, you thought the property came with a road on it? One can dream, but this dream of a deal didn’t include any of the niceties I’d always assumed property would (when I let myself have those wild pipe dreams). As the snow melted and the summer came full force, we started making trails. Machetes come in super handy for such tasks and whack away we did. By the fall, we’d had our first fire, a true Alaskan milestone.

Mccarthy, AK

We celebrated! We were getting closer to our goal. Still, after all that work, there was no way even a 4-wheeler was getting up there, much less our behemoth of a truck. So, we continued to work and this winter, we got our first vehicle up: the snowmachine. After building a ramp, cutting brush, stomping trail and crossing our fingers, The Chief made it up onto the land. As the winter wore on, The Chief would steal away in between work days to work on the property and finally, he got the trail all the way up to the ridge. Success! Access granted.


Still, true access, at this rate, would be years and years off and if we wanted to build a road, due to permafrost, it would have to be in winter and if we didn’t do it this winter that meant another year of hacking and sawing our way, little by little. Which is fine (and definitely the norm) but if we could, we wanted to speed things up. Thankfully (thanks, Pops!) my Pops was able to expand on his loan and thus, we were able to expand on our loan and so, we planned the fast track: a driveway. Like all things in Alaska, a decision didn’t necessarily mean action. We made the necessary calls, The Chief walked the land with the builders and then, we set a date.

And another date.

And another date.

And another.

Time and time again I forget: Mother Nature makes no promises. The first few setbacks were due to weather as the builder had a cutoff of 0 degrees (mainly for his machines. I’m sure he would have been out there at -20 if it wouldn’t have affected the equipment). Then, the equipment had a hiccup, needed a trip to town for the doc and then an inspection. Finally, months after our first call, all lights were green.

And then the weather took a turn again. -20 to -30 for a week straight. Hello late winter wonders!

Finally, the cold spell broke and it began. Breaking ground.

Building Alaska
Holy guacamole


For the first few days, The Chief was at the property to help and trouble shoot but a few days in, they were cruising and he could leave to come grab me in Anchorage. On our way home we got the call: “You can drive up your road tonight, if you want.”

Yes, please.

The moonlit drive became that much more magical, the snow all lit up and sparkling mimicked our excitement. As we pulled up, we let out hoots and hollers. I couldn’t believe it. It was a real driveway. We ran to the top and hugged and kissed. It was in.

Building in Alaska
Moonlit love


The next day, after a few finishing touches, the road was completely done and despite feeling absolutely terrible from his second shot, The Chief rallied. “We have to go see it in the daylight.” Snow was forecast for the next day and we’d already gotten a foot or more in the past week. After that, we probably wouldn’t be able to drive it for the rest of the Winter. So, off we went.

It was glorious.



This weekend, we headed out again, this time to put in a snowshoe trail up to the second ridge from the top of the driveway, the place we think we will eventually build. Why didn’t we get the road all the way up to it? Right now, even though we are in a long-term relationship, we are still getting to know the land. We want to spend time there, feel the breeze, watch the earth as it shifts in seasons to be sure before we build. We assumed we’d never make it up the driveway with the fresh snow we’d gotten on it but I knew once I saw that look in The Chief’s eyes that we were going to try. Some expert driving and a few attempts and there we were again, up on top, greeted by this:

Winter in Alaska


Leto was certain this being was an intruder, one not to trust. He growled his face off until we finally got him out of the truck at which point he promptly peed on the welcome guest (thanks, Long Lakers! We love you!).

After a few hours of snowshoeing, we were both beat and ready to call it a day and what did we do? We drove off of our property. Drove! We are both still getting used to that reality, still in shock that this is truly starting to happen. Long Lake.

Alaska


So, what’s next?

Phase I: Find a property and go through the rigamarole of buying it: DONE
Phase II: Gain Access: DONE
Phase III: Build

Building will be a ways off at this point so our Phase IIIa will be to buy an Airstream and setup shop on the land. It’s always easier to work on a property you don’t have to commute to and this way, we can truly watch the land go through the seasons. So, we are in the market, looking for new digs for our new drive.

What a difference a year makes.

Cheers to you and yours and to new ventures, big and small.

With love,

from Alaska

Alaskan Malamute
And lit up Leto


P.S. Have you started a new project lately? What’s next on your list?
P.P.S. If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog (at the top of the page) and if you have friends you think would enjoy it, please do share it!
P.P.P.S Thanks to the wonderful welcome bonfire, friends! On Sunday the skies were bright blue and we decided we needed one more trip up this weekend. I cut down my first tree on the property and we were greeted by all of our friends, our first visitors on the land. It felt amazing.

The mountains finally came out.
Whoever gets there first gets the first baby kisses!
Long Lake love

The Art of Relaxation

Well, it turns out I was right, I’m terrible at relaxation. Well, terrible at relaxation with one, rather large, caveat: I’m terrible at relaxation as I thought it was meant to be. You know, lazing about, not a care in the world about what day or time it is. Napping at will. Leisurely meals throughout the day with cocktails poolside.

Yea…that’s not me.

Now, while some aspects of the aforementioned relaxation style aren’t even available to me (hint: the nearest pool is 8 hours away. The nearest poolside cocktails?! Who even knows), even if they were, that’s the type of relaxing I can do for a day or two. Any more spells A-N-X-I-E-T-Y. But that’s vacation, right? No rules, no worries, no restraints! A smorgasbord of decadence and overindulgence.

Again, not for me.

A surfing vacation, however? Count me in.


I’ve tried it before only to come to the conclusion that I’m terrible at relaxing. The reality? I’m terrible at relaxing as I think others do (and as I “should”). The reality? I had to find my own swing of things. One of the best parts of my vacation? Learning this about myself (and even, eventually, finding this swing) and were it not for cues from you, amazing readers, I don’t know that I would have.

Relaxation to me has often been this sort of unattainable nirvana. I’d see other people doing it or hear their different ways and think “I’m doing this all wrong!”. I’d go back to the relaxation drawing board, setting different relaxation parameters for myself (sounds relaxing, right?). Now, if you’re thinking, “Julia! You were doing it wrong!”, I’d wholeheartedly agree. Not because I wasn’t doing one person’s form of relaxation or another correctly but because I wasn’t relaxing in the way that worked for me. I was doing it wrong because (spoiler alert!) it turns out the art of relaxation lies within each of us.

Looking back, my girlfriends and I like to laugh at our 5th grade selves who all wore the exact same jeans, socks and shoes to school (I love how socks were included in this list of lemming-like fashion).

L.E.I. Jeans, Costco socks, Nike or Adidas shoes or sandals. So original!

Similarity meant safety. We fit in with one another. As I’ve grown, however, I’ve become my own self, as have they. I have no idea what socks they are wearing today but I’m certain they are perfectly perfect for them.

Almost the same lineup, 20 years later

Still, my relaxing self hadn’t quite caught up. I live off-grid in Alaska, a life more wild and more independent than I’d ever dreamed, and still I was looking around for someone, anyone to tell me how to relax. Thankfully, you, the readers, came to the rescue with your tales of relaxation.

So, I started copying all the forms of relaxation mentioned above, right?!

Not this time!

Finally, it sunk in: the art of relaxation is uniquely your own.

Nailing it.


So I tried my hand where I felt most drawn. Mostly, for me, it meant being out in nature and watching the comings and goings of the day. I took morning walks to greet the rising sun and bundled as could be, laid down in the snow to watch it rise. I took moonlit strolls, watching that glowing orb come up over the mountains. I skied long stretches and even hooked up the little Leto beast for skijoring.

Fast as the wind

Sometimes being outside just meant chores but with all the time in the world to do them, it was more pleasure than pain. I chopped wood outside till my fingers froze and smiled with delight at the stockpile I’d provided us. I got back in tune with the chores The Chief had so kindly taken over when I was at work and it made me feel reconnected to our life.

I won’t lie, some days I felt the panic of inactivity or lack of production come over me. I had nowhere to be, no time to keep. What would I do next?! And then, if I got quiet, my heart (or sometimes my stomach) would tell me where to go next. I’d pick up a book or unearth a craft, find a snack, tidy a corner of the house or meet a girlfriend for an epically long impromptu ski. Time marched on, as it does, some planned, some filled with random tasks.One day I talked for almost two hours on the phone with a girlfriend, the entirety of which I spent scrubbing our tea kettle back to life. Some days went so fast, I could barely recount the day before it fell dark.

Sunsets for days

Some days lingered ever so slightly as the light started to come back. Once, I spent the entire day in jammies watching TV and once we took an epic nap after both falling asleep reading. And speaking of sleeping, I actually let myself sleep in for the first time in Winter since my first Winter in 2015.

As I write this, my vacation comes to a close. The morning greeted us with a twenty below “hello” and a long list of to-dos for an impromptu trip to Town for The Chief. A flurry of activity will fill our day as we cross off the list and work our way through the cold. In some ways, it’s the perfect ending, revving up to help me ease back into the world of virtual places to be and people to see. Moving forward, the clock will decide my comings and goings again and my phone, mostly shut off during my time away, will become more of a presence. Routine will return and appointments will be kept and in some ways, that’s relaxing too.

Plus, I am extremely grateful to be employed, especially over this last year, but we all need breaks, even from the best of jobs.

Plus, I’ll still have sunset snow naps


So, the art of relaxation? Turns out, it’s yours to decipher, yours to learn. For me, to feel relaxed, I need a combo of time alone, time outside and time getting things done. Even if I found myself poolside with cocktails, I’d still want to wake up in the morning to journal and do yoga. I’d still want a semblance of routine and continuity. A little bit of planning mixed with a little bit of spontaneity. To me, that’s relaxation. Finding a feeling of calm in one’s soul, whatever that looks like. Perhaps it’s not yet my forte but thanks to you, I’m learning my way.

May you find yours.

With love,

from Alaska

Sunrise snow bed

P.S. Anyone else finding their way towards their own version of relaxation? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.



Life Off-Grid: Getting Stuck

The day started off like any other unassuming Sunday: sipping tea in bed while journaling away through the dark morning dawn. A breakfast brunch as the day finally broke through the darkness and then…plans. What would the day hold? While there were chores like hauling water and running the generator, it was Sunday. The day of rest, right?

The Chief had, unfortunately, forgotten his phone at the Lake where we put in our first trail to our property(!) the day before.

Alaska
It doesn’t do justice to the ditch or the incline but you get the gist. Booyah!

So…his day’s agenda was set. Mine, on the other hand? Free as a slightly chore-laden bird. Still, I knew what was coming next.

“You should take The Beast out for a couple laps when I go out to the Lake. Pack down this new snow, you know?”

I knew.

The night before had laid down a beautiful layer of fat, fluffy flakes. Six inches of snow graced our valley. Suddenly, all of the well-trodden trails we’d grown accustomed to in the last month were covered. Every trek a tromp through calf-deep goodness. The trail to the generator, the outhouse, the sheds, all now a bit of a slog, overnight. Not only were our personal trails changed but all of the exterior trails were too. Without a quick pat down by the snowmachine it would be post-holing for Leto and I on our afternoon walk. The best plan, the pre-emptive plan, would be to take a few laps, prepping the trail for the oncoming week so it could setup. The best plan, however, was normally The Chief’s job.

In secret, I’d always wanted to be the one who laid first tracks upon the trails here and often I would but solely with my skis. Not once had I been first to set tracks with my machine. Even if our household was first out, we’d be riding in tandem and I always found myself riding in second place. Scratch that: I always positioned myself in second place and with Leto aiming to lead the way, I’d find myself a solid third.

Off-grid Alaska
Riding third-y

While it would be easy to blame The Chief for taking on these duties so as not to have to look at myself and by providing excuses like “He’s typically free when it snows and I’m typically working” or “He enjoys it more”, I finally let my guard down and came face to face with with the truth: I’m scared to get stuck.

The truth is, yes, sometimes The Chief is home and I’m working when the trails need to be put in. Sometimes not. And yes, The Chief does enjoy it but what’s also true: I love it too. There’s nothing like breaking first trail (even if it’s merely 6 inches atop an old trail), or so I’ve been told. Growing up, I used to love to drive my Grandpa’s riding lawnmower, back and forth in the summer heat, until the lawn was perfectly flat and uniform. Setting trail is the winter version of this (also somehow sweaty). So why all the hubbub?

Getting stuck.

I’ve done it before. Stuck, stranded, using every bit of I Don’t Want to Have to Call My (at the time) Boyfriend Strength up. Sweating. Panicking. Losing then regaining my senses.

Alaska snowmachine
Lassoed to a tree. Woman-powered reverse only.


Getting stuck. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
At least the view that day made it worth it.


The reality? Getting stuck actually is a truly important lesson out here. You wouldn’t drive a car without knowing how to operate it and getting stuck is just a part of operating a snowmachine. Still, there’s one issue: I’m a perfectionist. Perfectionist. The title seems harmless enough, unassuming, almost…dare I say, cute? In reality, it’s anything but. Being a perfectionist, for me, means doing things right the first time or…doing nothing at all. You’ll notice by my lovely array of dust-laden instruments in our cabin that I fall prey most often to the latter (doing nothing at all), than the often impossible former (doing it right the first time). Did even young Mozart have to plunk about on his piano for a bit prior to conducting his masterpieces? Me thinks not.

Truly, deep down, me knows so. I know there’s plenty of plunking about we don’t see behind the Insta-worthy lives we show. So, as The Chief gently challenged me to dust off my piano, per se, I met his gaze and said “OK, but I’m a little scared I’ll get stuck.”

McCarthy, AK
Stuck like a spruce in an ice bog



“You might! That’s all part of it.”

Ugh, sage advisor that he is, I wasn’t having it. Again, I’ve gotten stuck but only twice have I been completely alone and they were relatively easy fixes (thanks to the I Don’t Want to Have to Call My Boyfriend adrenaline). The other times, when I’ve gotten really stuck (I mean REALLY stuck), I’ve luckily been in the company of friends. What if I got REALLY stuck?!

Kennicott, Alaska
This photo does zero justice. Taken 10 minutes in, post packing down waist-high snow on a steep incline.

The Chief would be 45 minutes away. What if I needed him? Our neighbors were all gone. The closest call for help would be a long way away. I’d be a burden. Perhaps that’s the greatest fear: not just doing it imperfectly, but having an audience.

So, dear audience, here’s my confession: get stuck I did. I got stuck “damn good”, as my Mother would say.
See?

Polaris Snowmachine
Whoopsie daisies!


After two hours of miles-long loops around the local trails, racing back and forth and off into sub-trails, I arrived back at home sweet home. In my laps, I’d veered off into our yard and flattened out our home trails quite well but I thought to myself: “Why don’t I do one more lap to the fire pit?” I’d had a little trouble paving my way through the terrain with a turning radius that just wouldn’t take hold and I wanted a third run at it. It had been the only part of the last few hours that had given me pause, wondering if this would be the place I’d get stuck. Still, I had made my way through it twice already and today was about facing fears! Another voice sheepishly tapped me on the shoulder: “Excuse me, umm, I think maybe you’re pretty tired? Maybe, umm, maybe you should call it quits?” Even Leto, The Meandering Malamute, had thrown in the towel a few laps before. It would be totally honorable to do the same.

I didn’t.

Instead, I went full-bore. I was going to make the turnaround in one fell swoop instead of employing my wussy reverse again! Straight ahead or nothing!

I drew the nothing card.

In the last moment of the turn (which I was, in fact, totally nailing), my track caught on a previously unseen mini-boulder and…over she went!

Polaris trail
Look at my belly!


I heaved and ho-ed like no other. Just when I would get some momentum, my feet would slip out from under me, towards the machine. While I wanted it upright, I didn’t want it upright on top of me. I slid the back end away from the rock as best I could but the going was tough. I flattened the snow all around the machine in the direction I wanted to move it but still, I’d only get it an inch or less at a time. Until I purchased my latest machine, I’d always had lighter ones, ones I could lift. This one, weighing in at over 500 pounds, I couldn’t (which plays a great deal into a fear of getting stuck). No matter of momentum was proving to help. I was…

Stuck.

So, I did what I aimed not to: I called my husband. Somehow, despite being in the middle of chainsawing his way through our new property, he felt the phone buzz. He answered. The spotty service only swelled my frustration.

“I got stuck!” I finally yelled, angelically, of course.
What I wanted him to say in return was: “Don’t worry! The machine will be totally fine on its side for the next hour until I can get home.”
What he said instead was: “Well, no, babe, the machine shouldn’t just sit like that. You need to figure it out.”
“This is all your fault” my less than adorable side thought (thankfully not aloud).
“Maybe look up come alongs on YouTube? Or create a pulley system?”

I thought back to my 7th grade science classes. Pulley systems…yep, I had definitely been class clowning my way through that lesson. Nice work, Jules! But, he did have a point. I had the internet and a ton of tools (I didn’t know how to use) at my disposal. Perhaps I could cook up my own rescue. I said a grumpy “Thank you. Be safe.” and got off the phone. Time to brainstorm. To the back of the truck, Batman!

Ford F-350
It was full of supplies. Thankfully not this full though!


The thing about “packed down” snow (aka the snow I had been riding back and forth across for the past few hours) is that it needs to set up, meaning it needs time to settle and ideally, cold temperatures to turn it into a little mini-highway. This snow had not done that in the last 30 minutes of my trying to right the wronged machine. The audacity! So, back and forth I trekked, slipping calf-deep to the icy surface below, shedding layers as I went. Gloves on. Gloves off. Fingers frozen to metal. Gloves on. Repeat. After an embarassing and inaccurate first attempt (“I’ll use a tie down!” aka a ratchet strap) I finally agreed with myself to consult the YouTube oracle. “How to use a come along” I queried. The first video I saw had snow on the ground and a big truck. It looked like home so I clicked on it. Actually, the first video I saw said “Finger Pincher”. Rude. So I clicked on the aforementioned second one. The gist was the same: Do NOT use this if you don’t understand it. You will snap your fingers off. Fear mongers!

So, I watched the video over and over until I knew the subject back and forth, right?

Nah. I skimmed through it and looked for the main cues (i.e. which side is “Up” and which end gets attached where). A few more trip-laden tromps back and forth to the truck and I had everything I needed. I thought. And…it turns out I was right.

How to use a come along
Nailed it.

After some fenagling the pieces over the most secure junctions and a wish of good luck for my fearful fingers, I started cranking back and forth, back and forth until…I saw movement. The snowmachine was finally coming upright.

Ratchet strap
Come along, little doggie

I gave a few more cranks and gently tipped it the rest of the way down to the snowy surface.

“Hell yes!” I shrieked to myself. “I did it!”. I was in shock. I’d done something that gave me paused (riding alone in fresh powder), met my fear (getting stuck) and found my way out (upright).

Now, trust me, I know that to an experienced rider, this whole conundrum likely seems trivial. Well, trivial at best, perhaps closer to pathetic. To which I would say, “I get it.” Yet, I would also venture a guess that there might be things that make a brap bro pause that might be easy peasy to others. I can write an essay in my sleep but driving a stick shift makes me feel as if I should have a Caution, Teen Driver sticker on my bumper. Maybe you’re amazing with a chainsaw but can’t imagine a moment onstage. Perhaps you can draw life-like portraits but tremble at the thought of swimming in the ocean. Who knows? The point is, hopefully, small or large, insignificant or essential, we find a way to stride past our fears and get to the joy of just trying…and maybe getting stuck.

So, get stuck I did and unstuck to boot and now, my machine, was upright again.

Polaris
Homeways is rightways now.

Sweating and thoroughly exhausted, I put my coat and gloves back on, fingers crossed, in anticipation of a ride. She started right up, purring away loudly. “Yes!” I yelled again. I took her for a final lap through the local trails and she hummed away, happy to be back on track. I thanked my lucky stars.

By the time I returned home, it was almost 5. The Chief arrived soonafter, whooping and hollering for me as well. “This is what I mean! It really is good for us to get stuck, even if it is scary! I’m so proud of you, baby.” He then proceeded to tell me about a time he too had gotten stuck in our own backyard, years ago, during his first winter. He heaved and ho-ed and stomped down the snow around him for hours, all the while watching the lights go out at the friend’s house he had been on his way to visit (there weren’t cell phones here back then. Kind of amazing, right?!). Finally, hours later, sweating and exhausted, he had made it the couple hundred feet home.

Kennicotto River, McCarthy, AK
Plus, it had been a gorgeous day.

So, a restful Sunday, it was not, yet, it was exactly what I needed and I’m grateful for it.

In the end, getting stuck was the best part of my day. OK, getting unstuck was the best part of my day but it wouldn’t have come without first getting…stuck. I think in this time of online perfection, it’s important to show the less elegant, less photo-worthy moments. Maybe, just maybe, it will help us all see that perfection is limiting, at best, and that we all struggle and thrive in different ways. Moving here has forced me to face my fears, fears I didn’t even know I had, head on and while, in the sweating, exhausted moments of meeting them, it’s not always fun, in the aftermath, I’m always grateful. And so, I share those moments with you. The nitty, gritty, not always so pretty version of life (off-grid or otherwise) that force us to face ourselves, head on. It’s not always the shiny parts that need the most light.

Cheers to you in your triumphs and in your moments of defeat. May they both bring you closer to who you want to be.

With love,

from Alaska

Julia Chester
Grocery getter.


P.S. Can you relate? What are your hangups others might find easy?