DIY

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

Apocatips

Apocatips

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

 

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

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

Not anymore.

New reality versus old reality:

 

 

 

 

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

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

The Apocalypse

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

 

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

Oh no, you don’t.

 

 

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

Oh, joy!

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

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Green onions and celery.

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

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

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

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

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

    Swiss Chard kissing Marigold.

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Spruce tips for tea and a tired puppy.

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

  7. DIY: Just like with the almond milk example above, there are tons of things we buy on the regular that, with a little effort we can simply make. Pickles, sauerkraut, mayonnaise, broth, yogurt (this recipe for coconut yogurt is made by mixing probiotics into coconut milk and letting it do its thing on your counter for two days. It’s so yummers and truly simple), etc. are all things we’ve made versus bought. I’m not saying you have to make everything (nor do we all of the time, trust me), but the more we can self-sustain on what we already have, the better off we all are.
    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Homemade Coconut Yogurt, Alaska

    Coconut milk yogurt doing its thing.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Like frittatas! Frittatas are positive.

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

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

Think outside of just yourself.

For goodness sake, do not hoard.

Be kind.

Keep you and your local and global community safe.

 

With love (and lots of handwashing),
From Alaska

 

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

Be cool, wash your hands.

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California, Golden Gate Bridge

Building

Few things are more often discussed out here in the woods than building. From adding in a draining sink to starting completely from scratch, people here are doing it all, all of the time.

Growing up, we were always lucky enough to own the homes we lived in and thus, were able to modify them. As an adult living in California, the idea of ever owning a home was almost laughable (and definitely cry-able). I rented in a multitude of situations, everything from rooms in different friend’s parent’s houses to the floor of my brother’s room. I housesat, stayed with friends and eventually, after years of packing and unpacking (one year I moved over 20 times), I found myself in a little in-law cottage in Berkeley where I was going to school.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California

My car most often looked like this (love you goofs)

 

The sheer expanse of it all thrilled me. Living alone (despite how grateful I was for all of the houses I had laid my head down in the years prior), I could finally take a deep breath. It was the first time I had fully unpacked in years.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California, Golden Gate Bridge

Plus, the local hikes weren’t so bad, eh? Oh GG, you are gorgeous.

 

Yet as a renter, unpacking was just about the only modification I could make to my space and eventually, what once felt roomy started to feel cramped as my tenancy above a 24-hour barking dog started to grate on my sanity.

A few years after that, I found myself (still renting) in my dream home in Graton, California. Years before, I had housesat that exact house and had offered it up to the Universe that, if it wasn’t too much trouble, someday I would really love to live somewhere like this.

Exactly like it, it turned out.

(Thank you)

As friends moved out, I moved in and true roots, for the first time in years started to unfurl. I unpacked books from storage that had sat patiently, awaiting an opening and boxes from my childhood now laid in my home, rather than with my parents. I was becoming something…

Finally, I had space to mold that was my own. I decorated with real furniture, buying my first ever big kid couch and bed (booyah!) and worked the grounds around us. Grounds. There was finally space to stretch out, away from a city, in peace. I was close to my favorite haunts and perched perfectly adjacent to some of my most beloved trails. Near convenience yet far enough from the hustle and bustle.

The house was perfect.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California Succulents

A prickly situation

 

The relationship, on the other hand, was not (for anyone) and one day, I woke up and knew it was time to leave.

I moved in with a glorious girlfriend, to whom I will always be grateful. She softened the blow of the shrapnel from the life I had exploded with talks and walks and wine and baths and bowls of soup I never knew I needed (thank you, thank you. Always, thank you).

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California Beekepers

Just beekeepin’ with my boo

 

And then…

Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaska Glacier Cave

Glacier and girlfriend.

 

Since moving here, I have been lucky enough to be catapulted into a title I thought I’d never inhabit: Homeowner. The elusiveness of homeownership in California isn’t quite the same here in Alaska, at least in our part of Alaska, and over a decade ago, when The Chief first found this bit of land with his bestie, it was even less so. Together, they paid off the land, put in a well and built their own homes. In their 20’s. 20’s! The Californian in me stills gasps every time I remember this fact. It awes me.

And so, lucky enough to fall into this place, and the furry arms that built this house, I find myself not renting for the first time since my teens. It’s a strange new world and The Chief and I have done our best to take full advantage of the fruits of our bounty through modifications and additions. For the first time, the only person I have to check in with is my husband, instead of my landlord.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaska Building Construction Tiny Home Husband.jpeg

And he’s pretty nice.

 

Need a hook? Put one in!

Shelves? Heck yes!

Rip it down, put it up? Let’s do it!

We’ve worked on our home slowly and steadily (and sometimes in bursts of weather-induced deadlines) aiming to tidy it up the inside so we could side the outside and…

be done.

Done.

Silly us!

This Saturday, we went to a friend’s house and a few weeks before that, another couple’s house for dinners. First viewing dinners. They both had been working on their dream homes and both dinners signified the first time we would dine together in their beautifully buttoned-down abodes.

They are both gorgeous (the people and the houses) with details I don’t know how they dreamed much less executed, and designs to make your heart pitter-patter. They’re done.

Right?

Well…

Even these houses, still have building adventures they want to embark upon. Siding to put up or projects only they know to exist. From an outsider’s point of view, however, they look darn good and darn done.

It’s amazing.

And daunting.

Because…

The “Let’s just button it up and be finished for the foreseeable future” plan of our last almost 5 years here together, has come to an end. In realizing that we will someday soon want to expand our family (I mean, Leto really needs his own room, right?) we’ve realized that we too will need to expand our house. The main culprit is a set of stairs, nay, essentially a vertical ladder that is our only access between the bedroom and downstairs.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaska Tiny Home

Straight up.

 

It’s an access point that rivals the Ramp of Doom. I have fallen down these stairs and through the hatch MANY times. One time I even fell down the stairs and landed on a banana (I kid you not), slipping into a splits position and a full stop, at last. The Ladder of Chance is the reason Leto began sleeping alone downstairs almost immediately despite us wishing he could be up in our bedroom with us. It’s just too fraught with falling hazards with high-risk endings.

And so the iterations begin.

We’ve gone back and forth, up and down and every which way in between. We’ve ventured in the building dreamland everywhere from building onto our current house and making room for more moderate stairs to starting completely over with a new house to starting completely over at a new property.

“Oy vey!”, my Godmother might say.

For now, we’ve decided at least to spruce up our current digs as we won’t be adding on, and so the projects begin again as well.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaska Building Construction Tiny Home

A weekend of looking up and some very sore shoulders. Ceiling improvements!

 

In my spinning head, these competing options rattle about, challenging one another. The best solution will win, yet only time (and, oh yeah, money. The old Fast, Cheap, Good Triangle, right?) will tell. Until then, I’ll be hanging in the unknown and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California Praying Mantis

 

Good luck to you, whether renting or building or living in a fully finished house. May you be cozy, safe and well-fed.

 

With love,

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy

…and Leto and his basket (he’s become a bit of a kleptomaniac

 

Are you building? What have you learned, loved, loathed? Do comment and tell us your story!

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska

40 Below (Alone)

40 Below (Alone)

A week in Alaska, alone, at 40 below zero.

 

I awoke to the morning of January 3rd in this new decade to a very distinct quiet: I was alone. The Chief and our Third Amigo had ventured off to Anchorage for a supply run and so alone I lay, hearing only the breaths that were my own. It’s a strange feeling, that sensation, that moment of realizing the space someone warms and fills by their simply just being. That tinge of loneliness was enough to motivate me to get out of bed. As I rose, a new level of morning cold nipped at me. The temperature must have dropped.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Skijoring in Alaska

The two days before: warm sunshine and skijoring! Happy New Year!

 

Dropped it had to a brisk 25 below zero. Our Winter thus far had been a mild one at best, filled with more icy than snowy roads and a Christmas warm enough to don merely a dress with leggings and a jacket. We’d had quick cold snaps where the temps had dropped to 13 below but that was it. Winter light. Yet snap it did that morning into truly cold territory and with it came flooding back all that “cold” means.

First of all, don’t get me wrong, I am not suddenly immune to normal cold. The temps we’d had before were not warm by human standards, they were simply warm by Winter’s standards. Secondly, our cold out here is a dry cold with the rare windy day (though yes, there certainly is wind) which makes the cold a bit more bearable (and personally, I love the cold, which makes it a lot more bearable, for me).

Living in California for most of my life, the temperature never varied in a way that affected me all that much. Sure, we’d prep for storms and power outages but all in all, it was a mild fluctuation of predictable seasonal shifts. Certainly, some days I’d find myself ill-prepared on an unseasonably cold Spring day and have to rummage around in my car (read: my second closet) for another layer but all in all, there was always a newspaper to cover my head in a random rainstorm or flip flops to greet a sunny day. With relative ease and a modicum of preparation, I was typically able to meet the challenges of the elements.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, California Dillon Beach

A Dillon Beach storm a-brewin’!

 

Enter: Alaska. A whole new set of elements where flip flops and newspapers were unlikely problem solvers. For me, it’s been a beast to learn. Yet learn I have and learning I still am. However, just as I’ve learned, I’ve also forgotten as the tricks for one season don’t always blend into the next. It had been nearly a year since I’d seen temperatures of -25. I’d forgotten how it felt, what it meant. As I sat in front of our fireplace that morning, warming myself and our 40-degree house, the little things about life at 25 below started coming back to me. Like the quiet. It wasn’t just the absence of my husband that made the morning quiet, it was the cold. 25 below seems to be the threshold at which things start to get very calm, very quiet. A seriousness settles in.

It was Go Time.

Day One:

For the first time ever since we’ve lived here, I was alone, in Winter, in Go Time temperatures. The cold temp quirks started coming back to me as I reached for my toothpaste, only to find it near frozen, the icy water with which I rinsed stunning my teeth, flushing the drain with boiling water so it wouldn’t freeze. Leto’s water bowl threatened to ice over as the floor sent up glacial tentacles that grasped me through my slippered feet. I made my first step outside onto The Ramp of Doom which let out a piercing pop as the frozen wood responded to my pressure, the crack all that much louder in the blanket of silence around me. Surprised, I drew in a quick breath, and my throat caught slightly as the freezing air hit it. The snow further announced my outside arrival, squeaking loudly with each step. All familiar signs of 25 below. In just one night’s sleep, everything had changed, the game was on.

The game? Stay warm, stay safe, keep your ship running smoothly.

Easy, right?

I was the sole player and it wasn’t just The Chief who was absent. I was also officially more alone in the woods than I had ever been, in any season. All of our neighbors were gone and the closest help was miles away.  Still, it was “only” 25 below. I’d done 25 below with The Chief, I could do 25 below solo. So, I spent the day running through mental checklists and chores to prepare for what I assumed would be a few days at 25, maybe 30 below. I chopped as much wood as my arms would allow (since we had zero chopped at the moment), pumped fuel, checked our systems and looked gratefully at the remaining three full buckets of water The Chief and I had filled before his departure.

As I checked chores off the list, I thought forward. The next day was a friend’s birthday and if I could get the house warm and my snowmachine going I figured I’d head out for an hour or two to toast her trip around the sun.

Mother Nature had other plans.

To keep my one mode of transportation in good working order, I’d been starting my snowmachine every day since The Chief had left.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Snowmachining in Alaska

Sunset ride with the puppers.

 

Yet as the temps dropped, my battery, already on its last leg, couldn’t produce power enough to start the machine with the electric start (read: what dreams are made of). Plan B was the pull start but with such a large engine it was no easy feat. I pulled slowly to start, like stretching before a run (and to avoid ripping my arm out of its socket), then eventually full fast pulls. I pulled until I was nearly sweating (at 25 below!) but the engine wouldn’t budge. Knowing that a warm battery had a better chance than a cold one, I set out to pull it inside and charge it.

If only it were that easy.

Try as I might, I couldn’t pry it, bang it or will it free. It was frozen into place. My fingers cursed the cold as I cursed myself for having sent The Chief to Town with the only pair of heavy-duty gloves I had (in fairness, they were originally his and mine were nowhere to be found). Frozen from sweating and then standing at 25 below for an hour, I needed a break. I brought my aching hands inside to warm up and realized my next problem: warmth.

It was already midday and all-day-long I had kept the insatiable woodstove full to the brim but as I entered from outside, the temperature inside didn’t wrap warmth around me as it should have. I checked the temperature. The house was still at a stubborn 59 degrees. I looked at the wood I’d brought inside and realized my problem: wet wood. I did my best to remedy the situation by removing the frozen bark from all the warmed pieces but the water went deeper. In normal temperatures, I’d barely noticed the lack of heat this wood produced but as the temperature neared 30 below a feeling of doom settled in. Still, the house was cold but it wasn’t like it was freezing, right? I could manage. The dogs (we were dogsitting our beloved Kvichak), having made full use (read: a full mess) of the discarded bark told me it was time for a walk to take our minds off the cold (seems contradictory, right?) so off we went. We came back an hour later and before I knew it, the day had passed. I bundled up for bed, knowing the inside temp would further drop as I slept. In I crept to a hardened mattress (another thing I forgot happens in these temps: frozen mattresses!) in head to toe wool long johns, a sweatshirt, a hat and wool socks (exactly the opposite of how I normally sleep). I’d stoked the fire as much as safety allowed, hoping to buy myself a couple hours of sleep.

Day Two:

Come the ringing of my 4 A.M. fire tending alarm, not an ember remained in the woodstove and the house was down to 35 degrees. I was shocked. This wasn’t right. Our stove isn’t the largest but I felt like we’d been able to maintain a warm house and at least a 4-hour fire in the past without losing this much heat. I built another fire and sat brushing Leto (who had decided that right then, along with his best pal Kvichak, was a good time to start his bi-annual shedding) as I waited for enough coals to build up that I could again stuff the stove and get a little more sleep.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Malamutes Shedding

About a minute in. The ever-expanding fluff pile.

 

Sleep I finally did around 5 A.M., waking at 9 A.M., yet awake to a warm house I did not. Despite building a raging fire at the crack of dawn, I still woke to the bitter cold of our near-frozen home and again, not one ember in the fireplace. Something was different, a shift had occurred. I looked to every Alaskan’s Oracle: the thermometer.

It was 37 degrees below zero outside and 37 degrees in our house.

I needed to get on my feet and moving fast or this house would freeze, soon.

I think we call all agree that the difference between 25 below and 37 below is 12 degrees but the physical difference with each added degree below zero is exponential. Past 30 below, your breath doesn’t simply catch, it nearly chokes you with each inhale. Your woodstove isn’t just a resource, it is a lifeline and…things and systems start to breakdown, fast. Even the smallest hiccup can put the wheels of mayhem in motion. My first Winter, I grabbed a tote that had been left out in the Fall and it shattered in my hands and it’s contents spilled out, ruining half of them. The temperature had been a “mere” 28 below. We were way past that territory now.

Reality started to set in: this was no joke. I had found a rhythm in drying my woodpile but I had yet to find warmth. Try as I might, the temperature inside had not topped 60 degrees and had hovered for most of the day in the high 40s to low 50s. I texted the birthday girl to report that I most definitely would not be able to visit. Snowmachine aside, my 60-degree plight made leaving a no go. Even those who actually had a warmed house couldn’t make the birthday for fear of their house freezing while they were gone. Our house was already halfway to freezing. My girlfriend told me not to promise to reach out if I started losing the battle and things started going upside down on me.

I knew I was in a bit of a bind but having someone else say it shocked me further into action. This was serious.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Malamute Puppy

Mom…you got this?

 

I cherry-picked my way through my inside woodpile and the driest logs I could. The fire kicked up for the first time in two days. Things were looking up! Yet there was no time to celebrate. It was chore time.

I bundled up in my warmest clothes, protecting every inch of skin minus the very top of my cheeks and my eyes and went outside to get water. I lugged the generator over to our well. I was all set and ready to go. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t get the water hose to thread onto the well. The threads had frozen. I pulled out my lighter to melt the ice but it barely budged as the flame kept failing in the cold. I wrapped my hand around the threads but nearly ripped off the skin as it instantly froze. Next, I trudged into our makeshift workshop to find our propane lighter. Genius! 10 minutes later I finally gave in. It was too cold to flow enough to ignite. Finally, after 30 minutes of problem-solving and failing, I was starting to get cold and the running generator was about to run out of gas. I decided to go for it without the hose. Who needs a hose anyways?

I do.

I need a hose.

Without a hose, the water shot straight from the pipe about four feet in the air. I held the bucket above my shoulders trying to catch as much as I could (and prevent Leto from catching the stream he loves to chase), using one bucket to fill the other three. Within seconds I was encased in a frozen cocoon of ice from head to toe. After two rounds of running up and down the Ramp of Doom with 80 pounds of water at a time, the dogs constantly in my way, tripping me as I rallied myself upward, water was done.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska

Back to lash-sicle territory

 

Next, I needed to charge the house batteries. Easy. I’d just had the generator running. It was warm and ready to go…but, it was out of gas so I filled it up, started it up, plugged the house in and…our outside lights didn’t come on.

Strange.

Still, before I could check if it was charging inside, I needed more wood. Especially in cold temps I always try to apply the waitressing technique my friend taught me early on: Don’t move empty-handed. Make every trip in and out count. I chopped a quick armload of wood to bring inside but on the last swing of the ax, I felt something pop in my shoulder. Pain radiated up and down my arm. I felt panic well up inside me. If I couldn’t chop wood, I really was screwed. Still, there was no time to wallow. I loaded up my other arm with wood and headed inside.

Inside, the fire near dead after an hour of chores, I stoked it with new wood as I felt my cheeks start to melt from the comparative warmth of the house. The splatter from the well water had hardened where my eyelashes and my upper cheeks were exposed and immediately my skin started to burn. Still, there was no time to worry about that either as I looked to the batteries and saw that the house was not in fact charging. Just then, the generator started to angrily rev up and down.

After two days of failing to heat our house, struggling with water, countless near falls up and down the Ramp of Doom from dogs underfoot, an aching shoulder, a burning face and now a generator not producing power, I was starting to lose it. I checked everything I had learned about malfunctioning generators and found no culprit. It felt like my little world was starting to, to quote my girlfriend “go upside down on me”. Was I losing the battle? I called The Chief for a pep talk and just hearing his voice made my eyes well up with tears.

“You’re doing great. It’s hard, babe. Really hard.”

The tears threatened to spill over when at just the right moment he followed up with:

“Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.”

Deep breathe I did and I was back. I did have this. I could do this and with a little persuasion, I finally picked the easy route. There wasn’t time to troubleshoot the generator right now. I grabbed our backup and brought it inside to warm. Then, I headed to the woodshed and cherry-picked the best, most checked pieces of wood I could find (a check in a round of wood suggests it’s drier than one without it) and painfully chopped my way through it. Finally, hours after I had bundled up to start chores, they were finally winding down. The new wood fed the fire with gusto and an audible difference in the flames let me know this fire would warm us, which was good because, in the time I’d been outside, the inside temps had sunk again to the ’30s and the outside was near -40.

An hour later, the replacement generator hopefully warm enough, I suited up again for the outdoors, now in the early dark of dusk. In all the frustration earlier, I had forgotten I would need more fuel so off I went to fill another 5-gallon jug. In the cold, the fuel hose had frozen into a kinked position through which no fuel would flow. Again I de-gloved and warmed it as best I could with my bare hands. Finally, the fuel started to flow. I filled the generator and finally after about 20 pulls it started.

Success!

I went inside and saw it was producing power (the generator was the problem, not our inverter or batteries, as I had feared) and all was well.

Then, the lights went out.

The generator had died.

I quite nearly lost it (again) but (again) outside I trudged. Luckily, the generator had simply stopped because it was cold. I finally got it started again and this time it took. Cautiously, I went inside. Consistently it hummed.

A few hours later it was nearly 7 pm and the house was finally above 60! I was simultaneously exhausted and elated. At that moment, a next-door girlfriend newly returned from Town (I finally had neighbors again!) texted.

“Champagne? It was for the birthday but I think we should celebrate from afar.”

Yes, please.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska with Champagne

I love bubbles.

 

By the time she came over the house was still a bit chilly but my cheeks were on fire. The frozen water from the well had burnt the top layer of skin, like a sunburn only from cold: frostnip. Thankfully, good conversation and bubbles distract from welted cheeks. The healing powers of girlfriends, eh? I felt rejuvenated and accomplished. I had made it! As she left, I realized what I hadn’t made was dinner (or lunch). I settled on the dinner of champions (or maybe just this momentary bachelorette): pasta with butter (sorry, arteries).

Chalking the day up to a success, I finally fell into bed again after midnight. The house was near 70 degrees and with a stuffed woodstove and belly, I fell asleep.

Day Three:

The 4 A.M. wakeup call felt extra early the next morning. Groggy, I remembered that in our conversation the day before The Chief had asked if the bricks in the top of the stove had ash on them (meaning that perhaps that buildup, in addition to wet wood was adding to our heating issue). Since the fire had been going steadily since he’d asked I hadn’t been able to check. Yet, despite a full stove 4 hours earlier, there was no trace of heat. Now was my chance. I cleaned out the wood stove that was dense with ash and checked the bricks. Soot fell from atop them as I tugged them out, simultaneously realizing I had no idea how to get them back in. A few tense minutes later, everything thankfully was back in place and again. I started yet another fire and headed out into the -39 morning to dump the ashes.

By 4:30 I was doing dishes waiting for the fire to catch. The reservoir of water we use to fuel our faucet had frozen so I did my dishes in a basin, careful not to let any water trickle into our homemade plumbing and ice up. At those temperatures, water freezes almost instantly so even small amounts can take us out of commission fast and the last thing I wanted was to add slop buckets back into our life. Finally, the fire established its coals. I stuffed it full and opted for a few more hours of sleep.

I awoke to yet another morning of a near-frozen house, a woodstove without coals and completely dead batteries but it was ok. I may not have had it totally dialed but this situation wasn’t going upside down on me. Finally, caught up enough on chores and the house warm enough to be able to step away for an hour, the dogs told me how we would fill our time: a walk, at 39 below.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska Stircrazy Puppies

Driving each other stir cray cray.

 

Despite being constantly in my way, they had been very good sports through it all but the stir craziness was starting to hit. Even though they are both Northern breeds, even they can’t stay outside long in those temps if not running and so had opted to be inside, in the way. Thus, we all needed some outside time. I covered my frost nipped cheeks as they amazingly pranced unphased by the cold, minus a lifted paw here and there.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Husky, Malamute, Alaska

Moonlit walk.

 

The Chief phoned to tell me that they were delayed and wouldn’t be home that night but would return the following day. Two days before I might have panicked at his extended absence but I didn’t. I had done it. I had made it through 40 below, alone.

Day Four:

The next morning, the cold snap lifted. The thermometer read a mere -12 outside and I finally got the house to near 80 degrees. I love when it’s cold and the house is warm at the difference reaches nearly 100 degrees between the inside and outside. At the coldest of 40 below and the house in the ’70s, the day before the difference had been over 110 degrees, something that still just makes me laugh in awe.

In true Alaskan fashion, things didn’t quite go as The Chief had planned for departure but he was determined to make it home. By 3 A.M., I finally heard our truck roaring up the driveway. After hugs and hellos and unloading the truck of perishables and making and tending a new fire, we were finally both back to bed, cozied up at 5 A.M. An hour or so later I felt The Chief rise from our bed and heard the familiar sound of him stoking the fire. An hour after that, groggily preparing for work, I went downstairs to find that despite the again dropping temperature, the woodstove was alive with glowing coals.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 35 Below Zero in Alaska

And the temperature finally above 40 in the morning!

 

My brain did a joyful backflip while my ego simultaneously sighed. A strange juxtaposition. I was overjoyed for The Chief to be home yet at the same time, it meant I was no longer the lone soldier protecting our castle. After 15 years of living alone in the woods, The Chief’s internal alarm clock awakes him immediately when temperatures drop. Having lived 4 years in the woods with The Chief, I think my internal clock would let me sleep through icicles forming in the house. The Chief has (almost) always beaten me to stoking the fire in the night. The sighing part of me was the part that wanted to continue to better hone my instincts. Yet other parts of me, like my shoulder, celebrated the help.

I’ll always be 11 years shy of The Chief’s Alaskan experience but come the opportunity to have my own, I did and I survived. Looking back on the week alone, I realized how far I had come in 4 years. I’d probably never even have noticed the wood was wet my first year. I certainly wouldn’t have known how to troubleshoot the well or the generator or even how to dress for the elements. Sure, there were hiccups, there were things I could have done better (and will do better next time) but the most important is that looking back, I can see how much I’ve learned. I’ve learned how to care for myself in the middle of nowhere Alaska, in the middle of Winter, alone.

The Chief’s help doesn’t negate my learning. Divvying up labor doesn’t mean both people aren’t capable of either task or that one is more or less important. Resting my shoulder so it can heal doesn’t mean I’m giving in, it means The Chief is stepping in to help and just as The Chief helps me, I help him. His presence doesn’t mean the learning stops and just in case I forget what I’ve learned, I’m sure Alaska has many more trials and tribulations up her sleeve to remind me.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 50 Below Zero in Alaska

Plus, when he’s home and the temperature drops to almost 50 below, I have a partner with which to capture this…playing with boiling water!

 

With love,

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 50 Below Zero in Alaska Frozen Water

Steam halos.

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

Back to the Waves

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

Town.

{insert ominous music}

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

 

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

Helllllooooo!

 

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

Yet, that’s not true.

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

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

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

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Cardamom & Star Anise? Yes, please.

 

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

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

In the middle of nowhere?

Nope.

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

Then, I had to pee.

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

 

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

Happy puppy, tucked beneath a mound of flowers.

 

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

Four hours or so into our drive, it happened.

We both waved…

to a stranger.

And the stranger waved back.

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

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

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

 

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

Can you spot the Salmon?

 

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

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

But that’s not the point.

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

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

I’ll try it if you will.

With love,

from Alaska

 

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

Hello and goodbye to the sun

 

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

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY recycling tips

The Triple R

Growing up, the three R’s were a mainstay in my house.

Pretty much.

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse (though for this post the last two will be switched in order).

We Recycled without pause, hauling our goodies to the Recycling Center on weekends and returning with cold hard cash (which usually was only a few dollars but to a kiddo seemed a beyond lucrative exchange for doing something like recycling. I mean, where else would it go? The trash?) I don’t even think I understood that recycling could go in the trash, as if its sheer recycling potential would protect it like a forcefield from the landfill.

We Reused in the form of yogurt containers for leftovers and plastic grocery bags as our small trashcan liners. I truly think everyone I knew growing up had Nancy’s plain yogurt plastic containers in their cupboards and drawers in lieu of actual Tupperware.

And we Reduced…a bit.

I’d say that last R got rolled in with the others, checked off by association like 20-year-olds trying to get into a bar by surrounding themselves with older friends. Legal by association. Right?

I wouldn’t say we were gluttons by any means, and the excess was probably less on my parents’ parts and more on mine. Let’s just say my Dad wrote a song about me titled “More Daddy, More” which basically just highlighted all the things I consistently asked him for from a horse (obviously) to smaller things like this really cool plastic wallet my 6-year old self just couldn’t be without to more ice cream, more headbands…more.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY

These days it’s more food-focused than headband headstrong.

 

So, the two R’s held strong and the last one tagged along like the third wheel it was.

Over the years, my relationship with The Triple R’s has held steadfast but I wouldn’t say it necessarily grew any wiser. After moving out of the country, it became even easier to fulfill my triple R duties and in some way that distanced me from them.

Still, I ticked off the Triple R checklist or at least most of it. On Sunday nights, out the first R would go. I’d watch the recycling fall away with little more than a few beeping backups down our long hill. The second R came in the form of reused wrapping paper and second-hand shopping and the third R stared me down as I bought things I didn’t always need.

Moving here, I gained a whole other appreciation for those familiar R’s as their execution got much harder.

Sort of.

Unlike the happy to see me Recycling Centers of my childhood, there was no payoff waiting for me in Anchorage, and sometimes there was even a charge. There certainly wasn’t a trash service waiting to back down my 60-mile driveway.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY trash

Year one’s recycling haul…I’d say it’d been a while…

 

The ease of the first R had significantly changed but hey, I’d grown up driving an hour round trip to recycling, a few pesky extra (8) hours weren’t going to stop me! So, we spend the months between Town trips storing and sorting our recyclables. Placing them into their respective collections of 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, aluminum, tin and glass and then eventually making the 16-hour round trip to take them to their recycling heaven.

Despite the sticky mess the sorting game makes, I have to say, I like the process of reliving our consumption. A really good bottle of wine will pop up its empty top and remind me of a great evening or a plastic pill bottle from a round of antibiotics will remind me to be grateful for our health.

The second R (and yes, I know I’m still saying these out of order) has, due to locale, truly come into its own. Reuse. I’ve said it once and I’ll keep saying it: scarcity and need is my personal key to creativity. When living in a city, where the touch of a button or the press of a pedal gets me what I want or where I want to go, need is such a relative thing. If I ran out of all-purpose cleaner, I’d just go and buy more. Here, I remember the first time I ran out of cleaner. As the spray bottle wheezed its last spritz on this still bachelor pad, I realized that I hadn’t stocked up. I also realized that I had never thought of what exactly was in an all-purpose cleaner. I also knew this bachelor pad wasn’t near clean. And so, as the store was 8-hours away, I did a little research instead of a little drive and realized I already had everything I needed: oranges and vinegar. Well, orange peels and vinegar, to be more precise. With a little research, I realized that:

  1. Cleaners don’t have to be made of harsh chemicals
  2. I could make my own natural products

So I did and boy oh boy were they not kidding when they said all-purpose. This stuff can clean everything from windows (heck, it even could clean our sapped up, smoked out, sooty fireplace glass) to our wooden shelves and our stovetop.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY Cleaning tips

Squeaky clean top, soot-filled bottom.

 

My second R fire was relit by scarcity. Suddenly, everything around me sparked my attention. How could I best use that again or repurpose it to become something new? The Chief used my finished face lotion containers to hold nails and screws. I used old cans to hold my pencils and flowers and old egg cartons to start my seeds in the Spring. Before something went the route of bye-bye via the trash or the recycling, we took a good look at it to see if it could breathe life anew.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY gardening

They also make really great ice cube trays. Thanks, M!

 

And just like that, the third R peeked her head around the corner and smiled at me. She’d been there all along, walking hand in hand with the other R’s. Before, I would have bought something to organize our tools, to hold my pencils, to grow my seeds. I would have brought in more to address a need instead of looking at what I already had but just by doing the opposite, just by not having easy access to an “easier” way, I found that the third R had been right there. By reusing I was reducing.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY recycling tips

Original inspiration

 

Hallelujah!

That third R was sneakier than I thought.

So, we wash and re-use our Ziploc bags and turn old shirts into rags. We wear and hand down hand-me-down clothing and use junk mail and cardboard boxes for firestarter in fires composed of dead trees we’ve harvested for firewood.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY lumberjack

Stihl in love with you.

 

And still, there’s certainly a long way to go.

Despite the presence of our rule to take something out of the house to donate every time we bring something in we don’t always follow it. We still buy things we don’t need (ok, but try a milk steamer and tell me it doesn’t drastically improve your life. Not joking). We still have trash. We still have a footprint.

Yet we try, we aim, we sometimes fail, to make those three R’s proud.

Thank you, Mom and Dad for teaching me the three R’s like they were law and thank you Alaska for teaching me via the lessons of scarcity, just how to abide by that law…most of the time.

 

P.S. You didn’t think I was just going to tout an amazing recipe and not share, did you?

 

ALL PURPOSE CITRUS CLEANER

Ingredients:

Orange peels (you can use any citrus you like, I just love the smell of oranges)

White vinegar

Directions:

Peel your favorite citrus (this is especially helpful if you bought in bulk and now find your citrusy friends starting to fade. Peel them all and either juice them and freeze into ice cubes or freeze them whole to use later) and place the peels into a jar. I use a one-quart mason jar.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY all purpose cleaner

Whole oranges to freeze and ice cubes made of lemon juice plus the cleaner in progress behind.

 

Pack the peels in tightly but don’t give yourself carpal tunnel over it. Just a cozy bunch of peels packed purposefully.

Pour the vinegar over the peels, filling the jar until all of the peels are submerged.

Put a lid on it!

You’re pretty much done. Shake the jar every couple of days and within two weeks, this puppy is ready to go. You can remove the peels at this time or keep them going but they get a little mushy gooshy so it’s best to remove them and strain the liquid. Again, if you don’t, the sky will not fall. I’ve left them many times out of laziness or forgetfulness and the concoction turns out great but just a little grainier.

Enjoy!

Use this for glass, countertops, etc. As with anything, do a small test spot first if you feel this might not work on something but I have yet to be disappointed.

You can do this process continually by simply putting peels into a jar as you get them and adding more vinegar as you get more peels. Or, you can do it all at once. I typically have a couple of jars going at once and will pass them along to share the citrusy bounty with friends.

Enjoy!

Please let me know how your citrus goodness goes and feel free to share any of your triple R tips!

With love,

from Alaska.

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Shopping in Alaska

Do the Hustle

(The moment this title, “Do the Hustle”, came to me, I’ve been singing the tune of the classic “Do the Hustle”. Wanna sing along? Do it, do the Hustle).

Here, the Hustle (Alaskan name: The Shuffle Hustle) is a dance even those with two left feet know well. In our cabin, from the moment we return home to the next time we leave to resupply, the floor of this cabin looks like a jumble of Arthur Murray dance diagrams. You see, the dance is always changing.

The First Dance: The Big Haul

Shopping.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Shopping in Alaska

Heaven…unless I’m in a hurry.

 

Returning from Town is a trip of endless possibilities and outcomes but in most cases, especially in the Winter, no matter how early our start, we tend to return in the dark and the cold. Headlamps light our way as our sleepy though psyched selves haul in everything that can’t freeze. And what might that be? More than I realized. Everything from bottles of wine to bags of produce and even some sauces (I’ve even had vinegar explode). What can freeze? More than I originally realized as well: bananas, peel on and all, kale (though be prepared for tiny kale pieces and spread about your freezer in a sort of healthy confetti), cheese, tortillas, guacamole even.

If you’re smart, which occasionally we are, your totes (in which you haul your Town booty) is organized by freezables and non-freezables. Yet often, your Town bounty overfloweth and cannot be contained by totes alone. You return home and despite your best Tetris efforts, the back of your truck might look like this:

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska

Let the panic ensue.

 

You open the back door slowly to reveal a crumbling mountain of goodness which, despite your caution, often tumbles out towards you, out of the truck and into the snow.

As you know by now, a Town trip is basically a continual reconfiguration of things, a process of stacking and re-stacking, packing and re-packing. Messes made, messes cleaned, messes eventually just lived with for another hour or two. But now, that you’re home the process can stop, right?

Wrong.

The packing and re-packing of Home though at least comes with a theme song: Do the Hustle.

Finally, endless trips up and down the Ramp of Doom and you have finished. The anticipated (read: idealized, unrealistic) 8-hour trip turned 12-hour (duh) trip due to extra stops and groceries and packing and re-packing and finally unpacking at home is now complete.

 

 

*Year one’s haul on the left (Kitchen: two-burner camp stove, chest freezer, desk, no oven, no room). The evolution on the right (stove, refrigerator, lots and lots of fresh veggies, still not a lot of room but better utilized).

 

The Hustle, however, has just begun. Your first dance steps are tracked upon the floor where countless others will follow.

The Second Dance: The Shuffle Hustle

You’ve brought the first wave in, the non-freezables and you’ve secured them in their respective safety zones…for now.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska Organization DIY

After. Shelves, water buckets, and fridge all full.

 

You see, everything has its place here until it doesn’t.

Since we don’t have a pantry or a fridge large enough to store all of our goods, our house becomes our perma-pantry and perma-refrigerator where the Shuffle Hustle begins (cue the music please). Different corners of the house serve different purposes at different temperatures so the cold corner from one night where the low was 10 degrees Fahrenheit turns to the frozen corner the next night when the temp drops to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means, that if the cold corner had delicates (lettuce especially), it’s time to get those precious dainties on the move. Do the Shuffle Hustle to find a new home…for now.

Our goodies storage, in order to make up for a small pantry and even smaller fridge,  consists of the hodge-podge following:

 

 

4 totes on the floor stuffed underneath a counter’s shelf

1 mini fridge/freezer combo

1 wall pantry measuring about 2 cans deep, 3 ft. wide and 7 ft. tall (shower hardware at the ready)

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska Pantry Organization

Oh, the meals into which you’ll go!

 

3 large totes, 5 mini organizers in the loft upstairs (aka our bedroom)

Multiple cold to potentially frozen corners of the house

1-2 (weather permitting, meaning, it stays below freezing) totes outside.

 

Do the Hustle.

The initial landing places of most things will inevitably change as the goodies get eaten and the rest of the truck gets unloaded. From one day to the next, the fridge can go from chock full to half empty and then right back to filled to the brim again. As one thing moves or proves hearty enough to shift, another, perhaps more delicate flower takes its place.

But this doesn’t just happen with produce. The beans and canned good and frozen fun, they too get in on the dancing.

Let me set the scene of a typical evening:

The dinner of choice: Pasta with Pesto, Shrimp, Peas and Carrot Ribbons

The Dance: Shuffle Hustle (Techno Remix)

As the water comes to a boil, The Chief might ask me: “Babe, do you know where the pasta is?” I might say “Totes!” and point him towards the milk crate in which we store “grab-ables”, AKA, the high touch items like pasta, tuna, canned tomatoes, chocolate (when we have it) and snacks. Needless to say, this is my favorite spot of the house. But alas, The Chief replies the dreaded response: “Nope”.

The dance begins, the music gets louder. Up I head into our Loft where I try to remember the clues I left myself as to where everything was last year. I know both totes are freezable (or at least hope I know that otherwise, I’m likely about to discover a mess). I know one tote is mainly freezable (fingers crossed) condiments and canned goods while the other tote is filled with grain-type goodies: pastas and noodles of all varieties and some coffee to top it off. Which one? Does it really matter? Just open them both, right? Well, the thing is, it’s not just the opening of a tote, it’s the dance, the constant moving of one thing to gain access to another. In this case, it’s the moving of one large tote or five smaller totes off the food totes held captive beneath them. I close the hatch to prevent a spill. I choose the one with the one large (and I’d forgotten, very heavy) tote atop it.

Wrong.

I proceed to move the heavy tote back and unearth the other. With everything finally up and off of the tote, the true tote of my desire is now exposed. Pasta! I grab a couple of bags in order to stave off having to do this particular Shuffle for a while and make a mental note of the contents of both totes to speed my next foray into the “pantry” as I put everything back in order.

Downstairs I head. This dance is almost over, there’s dinner to be had. Until…

We need the shrimp and the peas. Out The Chief goes to dive headfirst into the frosty haven that is our new freezer. Despite our best efforts to catalog just what lies beneath, still, disorder sneaks her swift paws into our frozen bliss. Finally, he finds the shrimpy pals and heads in. Onions and garlic going, I move to toss in the shrimp and ask for the peas for the shrimp’s cooking company.

“Shoot!”

Out again The Chief heads, this time to the frozen totes near the house (which only the week before had to be completely emptied, goodies stored elsewhere, due to a three-day stretch of warm, sorry “warm” weather. 33 degrees Fahrenheit I don’t think should be so nonchalantly labeled as warm. But here, it is as it’s simply too warm to keep a frozen handle on things). The peas smile up at The Chief as he collects them and delivers them to his bride to be. Yet, just as soon as he starts to take off his boots, I toss them back his way, realizing that due to our recent lemon juice ice cube making marathon (due to lemons who wanted to go bad within a week of purchase. What gives?!) our inside mini-freezer can’t spare the room. Again out he goes to put them back into their frozen holdings.

The Chief finally un-boots and prepares a movie for us as I put the finishing touches on dinner. Carrot ribbons spun, it’s finally time. The pasta is twirled into bowls, the shrimp and peas plop atop and the pesto…

The pesto.

I go to the cold northern corner of the house, a wonderfully consistent corner for cold-hearty condiments and champagne alike.

The pesto is not with its chilly friends. The champagne looks up at me with a shrug.

The pesto, we realize, we forgot to replace (by bringing a new one in from the freezer) when we finished it the last time we made our pesto shrimp feast and now, we are about two hours too late.

This time, figuring this evening had tortured The Chief enough,  I head out to the freezer to do the deep dive to find the pesto and find it I do, but not until I’ve dove to the depths. Oh joy! Chickens and vegetables and frozen fruit get tucked back in again and I bring my pesto prize proudly into the house ten minutes later to the presence of now cooling pasta. Back everything goes, into the pot as I fight to scoop the frozen pesto onto the awaiting pesto pasta dinner.  A little warmer and much more of a pesto pasta than before, the meal goes back into the bowls, preparing for their crowning glory: carrot ribbons. They prance atop the highly anticipated twenty step dinner and as I head into the living room/dining room, I reflect on what seems ages ago when I ventured into the loft to start this pesto pasta process.

Dinner, my friends, is served.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Living Alaska Champagne for Everyone

I felt approximately this happy. Champagne for everyone!

 

The final dance of the night is the cleanup step. Thankfully, there’s room in the cold corner next to the champagne for her newest pesto friend and room in the tote under the open cabinets to keep the leftovers. Yet, tonight it is cold, in the near -30 Fahrenheit range and so, in order to prevent the pasta from freezing (the texture of brown rice pasta once frozen is lacking, to say the least) I take one of my puffy jackets and wrap it up like the present it is. A present into which a lot of work and a whole lot of Shuffle Hustle dance steps went.

The music dies down.

And just like that, just as you get comfortable with your jacket wrapped leftovers and your pesto placed just right. Just when everything has its place and your tiny world is contained enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it all, a friend calls…and asks if you need anything from Town.

Let the tumbling crumbling mountain of goodies dance begin again.

The things we do for love (of food).

Do the Hustle.

 

With love,

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Backcountry Alaska

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 graduation

Work in the Woods

Long ago, before Alaska, before my life turned topsy-turvy into the wonderful woodsy wilderness it is today, I wanted to work in an office.

Yep, you read that right.

At the time, I was in my early twenties, recently graduated from UC Berkeley and waitressing at a local restaurant and feeling that every day I was falling farther and farther behind my cohort. You see, I had gone into Berkeley thinking I’d come out well on my way to becoming a world-renowned Sociology professor. However, I quickly realized during the first class of my first semester that perhaps the research I’d done around my future job (none) had been lacking, at best. Apparently, one was suggested to budget 10 years for a Ph.D. in Sociology.

“If I’m not able to perform surgery after spending 10 more years in school,” I thought to myself, “then no, gracias.”

I couldn’t believe it. Yet, there I was, knee-deep in my first semester headed towards my “job”, bills to pay stacking up, enmeshed in a subject that  I was interested in yet held no clearly laid out professional path.

Nice work!

Gulp.

I worked my way through the next 3 semesters and graduated with not a clue of what to do for a career.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 graduation

Who knows?!

 

And so, when a dear friend who too had battled her way through Berkeley asked if I wanted a job with her at a local restaurant, I said “Yes”.

Thank goodness.

That job taught me about a sense of urgency, it taught me never to judge a book by its cover and perhaps not even by the first chapter. It brought me into a family of friends who all helped one another and it taught me to multitask and organize my workflow in the face of a restaurant full of patrons, all wanting you. I truly think waiting tables should be a mandatory occupation for everyone. It changes the way you see the world.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 waitressing

Dress up day at work. Love you, dear.

 

Still, I felt the breath of Berkeley hot on my back in the form of my own pressure and, of course, in the form of all too nosy patrons.

“You went to Berkeley? And you’re my waitress?!”

Yes, doll, your first statement is true but I’m not yours.

(*Sidenote: Somehow, in all of this, I seemed to have forgotten the lessons I learned from the year I lived in Italy where waiting tables is a career. Some of my best friends have made it a wonderful career. Days free, cash tips, thinking on your toes, every day a different day, shift drink? Hello! Plus, what could be a more noble profession than bringing nourishment and warmth and happiness to those around you? I have a lot of respect for those who can do that on the daily. Love to you all).

I felt pressure from the world and pressure from myself and as my cohort found their respective posts in the work world, I felt as if I was falling behind.

I needed a new job.

An office job.

Growing up, I had spent hours on end with my Dad in his office building. The cubicles with their padded walls with pins stuck into them holding up pictures of family and drawings from kiddos seemed so cool to me. Even cooler was my Dad’s office. A room all his own, shut off from the bustle and even a printer all his own to boot. He wore suits every day with ties I helped match and pockets that held a wallet with business cards. I thought it was the cat’s meow, the wolf’s howl.

I had applied at countless jobs for years for marketing, research, think tanks, anything! So, when I was offered a job one night from a table I was waiting on I felt that my answer had come. They loved me. They were so excited I was considering their offer. A few weeks later, I left my post and my family of friends at the restaurant and promised to return for Happy Hours and “hellos”.

I was a Happy Hour person now.

9-5? Sign me up.

Weekends off?

Holidays too?

Count me in, boogaloo!

I was a businesswoman, a woman in heels, a woman with a cubicle all her own with business cards and a phone line and a corporate email. I had meetings and off-site visits and goals to meet.

I had arrived.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 - office life

My view, with a little love from Miss E.

 

Right?

A few months in, red-lipped smile fading, heels starting to hurt (despite their absolutely fabulous cheetah print), cubicle closing in on me slowly, my co-worker said to me: “Sweetie, you are a flower, but you are wilting here.”

She was right.

And so, almost as quickly as I had arrived, I found myself departing.

Thankfully, at that time, the women’s gym I had been pulling doubles with teaching classes in the evenings after my 9-5 needed more of me and so I moved into my next career of a personal trainer and eventually the role of a business owner when my partner and I opened our own gym.

 

And then, I gave it all up.

 

My partner bought me out of our gym. I quit the waitressing side job I had needed to supplement the bills and I left a relationship of 7 years.

It’s funny looking back how we slowly align things for ourselves, isn’t it? The whole process of my subconscious slowly freeing me of my responsibilities took close to a year. The untangling of the ties that bound me and the final cutting of the last thread was not something I knew I needed to do, not consciously at least. And in that final cutting of ties, I awoke.

And I was free.

Free enough to go full circle.

Back to waitressing.

My second Summer, I was still working for the Food Truck I’d started at my first Summer and also the Restaurant. Waitressing is a skill I’m beyond grateful for that made my jump to Alaska possible.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 food trucks of alaska

Big Red getting all set-up.

 

Still, as an extroverted introvert, it takes a toll on me. I don’t always recharge by talking to people the way true extroverts do. I found myself rushing home after work just to be alone and I let myself realize for the first time that it was ok if this wasn’t for me. I wasn’t one of those people who could feel replenished by serving. It drained me. But what else was I good at? What was there to do? I started to think about other options. Could I have a career in the woods? Did I want one?

The Chief and I brainstormed about ways to make money year-round instead of seasonally. How could we stay home and still make money when all of the businesses left and it was too cold for construction? I told myself that by the next Summer I’d be working at least part-time out of the restaurant business. But where and how I didn’t know.

Having started the blog I was back to my writing roots. I had helped a few friends with wording on their websites, marketing, editing, etc. So, that second Summer when a local non-profit asked me to donate to their silent auction, I realized that writing was my skill and time was what I could donate.

And so I did, and then I promptly forgot about it.

A few months later, I got a call. It was from the auction winner, a CEO in Seattle who had come to our town for a backpacking trip at the time of the auction. He wanted to set-up a time for me to edit his website for a new business he was launching.

I was in California at the time, transitioning back to AK for my second Winter and I saw the requirement as a mild imposition but something I had agreed to nonetheless.

The three hours I had donated turned into four, then five as I worked my way through the texts, listing my recommended changes. I submitted them and brushed my hands together as if to clap off the dust of computer work well done.

That was the end of that.

Still searching for a career.

Or so I thought.

The edits, apparently, were a hit and the auction winner asked if I had any interest in picking up a few hours a week to help with editing and what not.

Of course!

Right?

At the same time that my heart lurched forward towards the pint-sized pinch of stability this offered, it also jumped back.

Wasn’t this what I was getting away from? I had found happiness in a simple life and now I was going to muck it up by bringing my old life into my new life? Was I to be a wilting flower or a wild rose, surviving through Winter with my Summer stores?

I decided to see where it led.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 digital nomad

All the way to Ecuador.

 

Two years later, after slow times and busy times, I have become the head of Market Research for this company. A company far away with a boss and co-workers I’ve never met face to face yet talk to every day.

It’s a strange dichotomy to live amongst the trees and type away. To conduct business meetings in the dark of a quiet Winter morning, stationed close by the woodstove to fend off the cold with a laptop instead of a book in hand. To have my day planned in advance with meetings and deadlines instead of being open to the whims of what have you.

A strange full circle it is.

It’s taken The Chief and I a moment this Winter to get used to it again. In California, everyone is busy, busy, busy. It’s often the first thing we hear. “How are you?” “Busy.” So my new position faded into the buzzing about.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 work from home sunset

The work from home sunset.

 

Here though, in Alaska, that buzzing is awfully loud. And so, these last few weeks, we’ve begun to adapt to my first full-time working Winter. Mornings start early, sometimes at 5 am (the only downfall to Alaska being far to the left in the timezone scheme of things. 5 am here is 9 am EST. Ouch) and work weeks can far extend the 40-hour average and spill into the weekends. Yet those work weeks are conducted in my own home, definitely not in heels with lunch breaks filled with cross-country skis (sometimes) or at least a home-cooked meal. It’s the oddest compromise I’ve ever been a part of (and I live with someone in less than 400 sq. feet) but it also makes a lot of sense.

I want a career.
I also want to live in the woods.

That’s who I am.

I love order and organization and planning. I can’t help it. I tried my first few years to just go with the flow, to have zero scheduled and to let myself ride on the whims of the weather alone. And I learned a lot about myself. Namely, that while I shouldn’t plan everything, I should plan some things. For me, it makes me value the time off I do have. It gives me structure. I love waking up early to a house to myself. Even if some of those pre-Chief waking hours are spent working, they are also filled with pre-work rituals that I might not do otherwise: stretching, journaling, reading. When time is more scarce, I tend to make better use of it.

Plus, even on the longest of weeks, I’m still working less than the life of constant doubles I worked in California. For almost ten years, I worked doubles most days of the week. Weekends always meant work, holidays too. It felt like it never ended.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 adventure together

Like by going on a snowmachine ride and ski with my love and our neighbors.

 

I went from so much responsibility in California that I felt I couldn’t budge to few responsibilities greater than feeding and warming myself in Alaska. Life went from buzzing busyness to absolute calm and now, to somewhere in between. And this somewhere in between won’t last forever either. For now, it’s another addition to the list of dichotomies this life holds. Another lesson in learning who I am, how I thrive and how to shed the ideas that we and society (both in the woods and out) hold of how we should be.

Cheers to the whispers of the subconscious guiding us and to those whispers turning to shouts when we decide not to listen. Here’s to the utter serendipity of a businessman in small-town Alaska and a girl looking for a career in the woods. Here’s to whatever comes next, but to never again wilting.

May you be blooming.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

beneath the borealis - work in the woods -1-28-19 follow your own path

Isn’t she beautiful?

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska

A Confession: Phase I

Here’s a confession:

As much as I love our life and where we live, I’ve always been a bit reticent to show what our house looks like.

Well, at least on the outside.

The inside of our cabin is our cozy haven, filled with bright colors and soft fabrics and candlelight enough to make a Dane shout “Hygge!” (if you don’t know about the Hygge movement, check it out. You won’t be disappointed).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Christmas

First Christmas, Family photo

 

 

The outside…well, let’s just say it doesn’t quite evoke the same feeling.

Still, I tried to pretend it didn’t matter. In my newly found simple life, it felt incongruous to care so much about appearances. It was such a small part of my life. The outside of my house bothering me? It seemed petty. I tried to push it down.

I’d take nighttime photos of snow lit evenings, the house aglow with the warmth it possessed inside but in the day, without the camouflage of night or the focus shifted to something in the foreground, I was less likely to share the view.

Why?

Our house is naked.

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska

Hello, love.

 

 

With Tyvek that doesn’t even cover all of the house and no siding in sight, our little haven looks a little rough from the outside.

There’s a lot of things I’ve grown used to while living in Alaska that I realize are still strange to others, no matter how normal they’ve become to me.

Outhouses? Normal.

Peeing outside? Normal.

No running water? Normal.

Infrequent showers? Normal.

Living off the grid? Totally normal.

I’ve adapted and found a way to make these changes work for me and some I’ve embraced completely unaltered, loving the way they’ve changed me instead. And of all those normal to me, strange to others things, not a one felt noteworthy or strange or something to hide…except for the outside of the house.

It’s a work in progress and a work in progress is a very common thing in Alaska but it never sat quite right with me. Perhaps it’s because we are really stretching the “normalcy” of it all since we most likely are holding the current record for most years before siding. Still, it’s not as if our neighbors scoff at it, though it is a bit of an ongoing joke at this point.

You see, our house was built by The Chief and his family over a decade ago. I loved it on sight and it immediately felt like home. Despite its bachelor veneer, I saw the beauty underneath and with a little (ok, a lot) of scrubbing and love it became our home. Our cozy cabin has everything we need. Yet, because of the grand plan for the house (The Chief added a 10’X12′ addition on a few years back and we have plans for more expansion), our house has remained “in progress” and naked (read: without siding) since birth. We may not be the only house in progress, it’s definitely more common in Alaska than the Lower 48 but still, at ten plus years, our house really takes the cake.

Houses, like ours, that have additions added throughout the years are lovingly titled “More-On” houses where we live. It’s, you guessed it, pronounced like “moron”, insinuating simultaneously that you’ve learned a lot of what not to do along the way and that the project is never quite done. There’s always more to add on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Winter Construction

An oldie but a goodie. The first shelving project.

 

 

It took me time to adjust. In the Lower 48, you buy a move-in ready house or construct a house and often, you don’t move in until the last nail is placed and the final bits of sawdust have been vacuumed. In Alaska, it is far more common for people to move in before the project is finished. There are a lot of factors that make this so. For The Chief, it was a race against Winter. He could stay in the house he built, even though it was unfinished, or he could again rent a cabin that was not his own. He chose to go with his own work and finish it as time went on. And he did, but when it came to the siding, it just didn’t take priority. Houses take two things to build on your own: time and money and when you’re a young man in your 20’s with a roof overhead that you built by hand on a property that you own, I’d say you’re doing pretty well. Who cares if you don’t have siding? And, if you plan to expand, why go through the time and money to simply provide a finished look outside, when the inside is where you spend your time?

It made sense.

I guess.

Yet still, the more we planned and talked about the projects we wanted to do in the future, the farther away we realized that the future would be. As we already know, construction is costly in both money and time and every project here always ends up being 10 times more involved than it seems. From needing extra wood because you missed a cut to running out of screws or vapor barrier or running into unpredictable weather, there is always something that prolongs the process. So, for now, we’ve decided that we have plenty of space in our 12’X22′ cabin for the two of us. At some point we will expand, but for now, we’ve decided to focus on improving that which we already have.

And so, along came the birth of the siding project.

It would be simple. The Chief have already harvested trees and milled them into boards in a late Spring shuffle. All we had to do was “slap them on” (a favorite phrase of The Chief’s).

Phase I:

In order to put siding on your house, your house should be complete. This was the step I thought we had completed prior to deciding that it was finally siding time. But (big, big “But”), in talking more, we realized that wasn’t true.

As a man in his 20’s building a house from scratch on his own dime, The Chief had to be resourceful and so, in that resourcefulness, he had incorporated plenty of recycled materials to finish the job. From windows to interior siding, our house was a lovingly crafted hodge-podge of materials from the valley we live in. From historic to hand-me-down the house had come together in a wonderful, less-expensive amalgamation of materials. Yet, despite the low-cost at the time, the novelty of some of these things was wearing off as they started to lose their functionality. We finally relented to the fact that the old windows he had salvaged that no longer had screens and wouldn’t open, needed replacing.

“Great! Let’s do it next Summer when we have a little more money!” I suggested.

Wrong.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Construction

Windows out!

 

 

Like I mentioned earlier, a fact which is clearly new to my construction understanding, every change needs to be complete before the siding goes up.

We had ten days before we were leaving.

If we wanted to side the house this Winter when we finally would have time to, the windows needed to go in.

And so, The Chief made the trip to town which he graciously allowed me to back out of since I’d basically been on the road since July.

A few days later, he returned and the race began.

New windows before departure.

The clock was ticking.

In a hustle like I’d never seen, The Chief not only put in windows but also built us a shed for our newly acquired solar freezer (so we did not have to ask for storage help as much) in less than a week. Thanks to some serious help from our friends, everything was built in time to start the project…

This Winter.

Siding project: Phase I: Complete.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Windows

New windows. One less couch. New set-up. Thanks, K!

 

 

Now, we only have to wait a few months until we get home to start actually siding.

Just like everything in Alaska, this too will take time.

And so, now that the secret is out, now that you know our house is naked, I’ll share with you it’s clothing process along the way.

Until then, may your projects be speedy and finished…eventually.

With love,

 

from Alaska & California.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska California

Good day, sun ray.

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

Under Pressure

I hate to say it, but I often perform best under pressure.

//Obviously, we all are going to need to listen to Queen’s “Under Pressure” now. Come on, you know you want to.//

Throughout the past ten years or so, I’ve been able to start to curb the maddened procrastinator’s panic and channel it a fraction more usefully by ever so slightly planning ahead. Yet still, that edging towards a deadline, that building of pressure seems to always produce something a little more magical than that which is created without the deafening drumbeats of time.

Or maybe, that’s just the procrastinator’s validation because, really, there’s no true way to test it.

All that I do know for sure is that sometimes I need a little fire beneath my feet in order to jump in.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Ozarks MO

Jump on in, the water is fine. There may be a Water Moccasin or two but…

 

 

Alaska, in and of herself, is a fire underfoot. She pushes you to do things now because later will often look very different. And so, to her, I am grateful for the small procrastinations she’s helped me to shift. To do the little things immediately, before you can’t. The generator is warm? Run it now before it cools down outside and you find yourself having to build a fire to bring it to temperature, all while your computer battery is now suddenly dead and you find yourself suddenly approaching a deadline. Do it. Now.

The other way, perhaps a bit sneakier, that Alaska has set a fire beneath my feet is in the way of a simpler life. I wanted a simpler life. I read about it. I dreamed about it. But my life was so plentiful that I didn’t have scarcity to be my guide.

Never fear, Alaska is here.

I needed the scarcity of Alaska to really learn to take inventory and advantage of what I have. To use everything to the very last drop and savor it, knowing that it may be months before I can replace it. To get inventive in stretching meals when unexpected guests come over without simply going to the store to pick up more. And don’t get me wrong, there are times when I wish we could do just that, but I also love the communal effort that ensues when you’re short just one egg for a recipe and suddenly, the neighborhood search is on.

Scarcity has forced me to repurpose and reinvent that which is no longer available and to use all of that which is abundant.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Conjoined Summer Squash Gardening in Alaska

Conjoined Summer Squash was all this baby wanted to produce. Twinsies for days.

 

So, when our garden had gifted us it’s very last labors of love and was ready to be put to sleep, I turned my attention to our final product: herb salt.

After a girlfriend gave me a heaping jar of this salty goodness, I could not get enough. It’s a finishing salt (something I didn’t even know existed until another girlfriend introduced me to Maldon salt. Try it, thank her later) that goes on, well, everything and I absolutely adore it.

And so, since that first gift, I’ve been taking anything and everything from our garden I can to make herb salt.

Fennel salt?

Sure!

Chive salt?

Bring it on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

Hello, gorgeous.

 

 

My usual suspects, sage and rosemary were only flying at half-mast this year (the rosemary was a no go) and so, the old steadfast oregano came in for the win.

I spent the better part of an afternoon in my gardening overalls, watching the sun make it’s journey as I sliced and diced and salted to my heart’s content. I layered pink and white sea salt and labeled away and as the sun started to make her descent and the chill came on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

 

 

I packed up, using my garden bounty baskets I’d collected the herbs in (which feels very fancy and fun. Funny how one small wicker basket can bring you such delight) and was almost inside when…

I spilled the salt.

Of the dozen or so salts, my favorite, the one I had written birthday wishes upon for my girlfriend crashed to the ground, breaking the delicately crafted layers of pink and white and green into a swirled mess on the ground at my feet.

So is life.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Seeds Gardening in Alaska

Herb castings.

 

 

Thankfully, there were others remaining that I could also dedicate to her and thankfully, a little bit of that good old-fashioned Alaskan fire underfoot had made me take the day to turn our garden’s goodness into something that would last all year.

I needed that fire.

Thank you, Alaska for always providing a little incentive (sometimes a lot) and for always giving a last-minute reminder to not take it too seriously, spilled salt and all.

With love, and a little bit of get ‘er done pressure,

From Alaska.

 

P.S. Want the recipe? It goes a little like this:

Dried or fresh herbs (they say to refrigerate the fresh herbs but I’m not so worried about it – up to you). Mix and match to your heart’s content. My favorite combination has been sage and rosemary. What’s yours?

Your favorite salt or salts. I adore me some pink Himalayan salt if for nothing but the color alone. Everything is good. It’s salt, what could be bad?

Mix or layer to your preferred ratios.

Enjoy!

//I know this recipe is more of a suggestion than hard numbers. If you like those, I totally get it, I’m exactly the same. Dashes of this and pinches of that used to stress me out. But, consider this a little fire under your feet, a little stretch to try out winging it. I know you’ll do great!//

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Lavaterra Gardening in Alaska

The loverly Lavaterra, greeting the day.

 

 

 

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

Chore Strong

Alaskan Chore Strong

Life in an Alaskan Tiny Home Requires Big Chores

 

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

 

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

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

Not anymore.

Nowadays, the chores choose.

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

Our friends jumped in.

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

I was no longer chore strong.

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

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Chore Strong 04-09-18 Icicles

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

 

 

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

Chore strong.

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

The body responds.

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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