Homesteading

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

Cabin Confessions: Putting Up

I’m not sure what was in the air or the water or the stars this October but for some reason, the month brought with it many confessions. From candid to long-hidden, confessions came from dear friends and new friends alike, as if the month held a sort of truth serum that all of us had unknowingly drunk (for, of course, I had confessions of my own).

In this growing age of online versus in-person, of creating personas based on snapshots and moments in time, it’s easy to assume that another’s life is just how he or she portrays it: downright near perfect. That’s not to say that across the board, we all simply share the good times and hide the bad. I’ve seen plenty of Instagram feeds with hilariously relatable “fails” or beautifully honest posts. Yet overall, the online personas we often see showcase the best of the best of the very best sides of all of us and sometimes, I think that too flows into our in-person lives.

Enter: October

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Leto the Alaskan Malamute

Leto and the new ice.

 

I think the truth is catching and it caught like wildfire. The truth serum must have been drunk at a gathering of gals early on in the month and from there it spread. That night I learned “dirty secrets” (that were neither dirty nor did they need to be secrets) that made me feel…

Normal.

Since that night, I’ve aimed to honor that honesty and spread the good word: we all have things we think are odd, weird, ugly, bad or boring when it comes to ourselves but unearthing those hidden weirdos, bringing to light what you consider bad might just make you feel a little bit of good.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Best Friends

Let’s hear it for the weirdos in our lives! Love you girls.

 

 

And so, in that honest vein, I bring to you: Cabin Confessions, a sort of mini-series within BTB to keep the truth moving through us all, self-included. May it spread your way and help you to feel a little better, brighter and lighter. Or, just a little more normal.

Here goes:

Cabin Confession: Putting Up

Sometimes it feels that upon moving to Alaska, you’re supposed to have already learned all of the “Alaska Skills”.

Chop wood? Of course I can!

Fish? Sure, old hat for me!

Garden? Duh, easy peasy.

Sew? Yep!

Knit? Mmmmhmmm!

Survive in the woods? Yesireebob!

The list goes on and on. The truth is, when I moved here my first Winter I scored about a wobbly, uncertain 1.5 out of 6 on the list above and the above just breaks the surface. Heck, I didn’t even know how to dress myself (and in truth, when the weather changes these days, I still find myself wondering how I did it last season). So, when it came to Putting Up (a term I had never even heard before) I felt my familiar “friend” creep over my shoulder. Hello, Overwhelm.

Four years later, I still feel that sense when it comes to Putting Up food.

What is Putting Up?

Canning fish, pickling cucumbers, drying herbs, making sauerkraut, freezing bulk garden goods, etc.

Basically, to Put something Up means to harvest and preserve something you’ve bought or for more Alaska gold stars, something you’ve grown or harvested (typically in the warmer months), so that you can enjoy it for the colder months to come.

Easy, right?

Confession: Nope. Not for me.

Certainly, some Putting Up I fell in naturally with. I love harvesting, though sometimes I have trouble with the follow-through if the follow-through involves more than drying. Thank goodness for tea!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, harvesting wild alaskan plants

Goldenrod, Spruce Tips, Labrador Tea, Yarrow, Lupine & River Beauty

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, harvesting spruce tips

Spruce tips (and Leto0

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, foraging for morels

Morels, found by Leto (and Leto)

 

Yet, for some reason, putting up fermented foods has always made me feel more put down, by myself. The phobia I had discovered in California didn’t suddenly melt away upon moving to Alaska (I must have missed the Alaska Newbie Handbook), it froze solid. I can’t tell you how many cabbages I’ve bought at the store to make sauerkraut or kimchi that ended up moldy in the compost. Wasting food out here, where the nearest grocery store is 4 hours away is a serious no-no. Sure, food going to waste happens, but it’s often more of an accident; someone gifted you something you couldn’t quite finish or you had to leave for a few days unexpectedly and your refrigeration failed in some way. It’s not often because you have been staring down your food, too scared to fail and thus too paralyzed to do anything with it, that it goes bad. This year, to ensure I’d really learn the kraut craft, I grew my own cabbages.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, starts from seed

April starts

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan garden starts

Brand new garden bed

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbages

Gigantic cabbages!

 

The pressure was on but it was ok because this year I was making sauerkraut, no matter what.

Yep!

Sure was.

Right?

Nope.

Wrong.

A few days ago, I peeked at my last harvest of cabbages, 5 beautiful cabbages I had been lovingly caring for since starting them from seed in April. Watering, feeding, guarding, admiring every day, watching grow bigger and bigger…

They were rotten.

I’ll give myself a slight out to say that food storage in a tiny cabin where the temperature fluctuates between 90 and 40 degrees almost daily is a challenge but…I had also procrastinated for almost a month since their harvest. Sure, there had been an unexpected Town trip and well, I definitely needed to deep clean the oven…twice. I had procrastinated them into oblivion.

* I did, however, eat these first babies up!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages

First harvest

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages green

Cowabunga, dude! Enormo!

 

My last harvest of beautiful cabbage babies met their end in the compost, joining the many before them.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

The second harvest as the frost came tumbling in. Leto helped a lot.

 

Not only was it disappointing in the sense that all this time and energy had gone into this food that now lay spoiled before me, not only was it disappointing to have lost 5 good cabbages which could have made endless meals if not kraut, but the disappointment that again I had failed after 6 months of preparation was almost too much to bear. I was so disappointed…in me and I didn’t want anyone to know that I had, yet again, failed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute puppy

I felt a little bit like this.

 

Thankfully, The Chief was in the next room, a few feet away to hear the sigh.

“It’s OK, we just won’t let this happen next year. It’s OK, Julia. Plus, we still have one cabbage left!”

Oh great, one more cabbage to stare me down as it degrades.

Yet, instead of going down that path, I remembered honesty. I told everyone about my ruined cabbages and as I listened to others lament about kraut cold feet or pickling paranoia I suddenly felt better. Not in the misery loves company way because they were no longer miserable as I was, in the way that I felt I could (finally) get over this, as they all had.

The last cabbage left was a behemoth of a babe that my girlfriend had grown this year. She is an epic gardener (you can read all about it here) and after a dinner date at her house this Fall (read: 2 hours out, 2 hours back. That’s an Alaskan dinner party, if I’ve ever heard of one!) she gifted me one of her gargantuan gals.

I may ruin storebought cabbages and I may ruin my own, but I wasn’t going to ruin hers.

Right?

Finally, the answer was “Right”.

Three weeks later.

Meh, better late than never, right? I had been battling this fear for years, three lousy weeks weren’t going to take me under this time (plus, I had some gentle nudging from a friend, moving me slowly but surely along).

So, three weeks later than I had planned on doing something with her cabbage, I finally did.

1 Quart for experimenting

1 Big Bowl of Potluck Coleslaw for Poker Night

1 Big Crock

later and the enormous cabbage was finally gone and…

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest making Sauerkraut

Half-way through

 

Kraut is on the way.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, Malamute puppy in Alaska

Finally, I felt like this!

 

I’ve psyched myself up time and time again to do the Putting Up I dream to do here but time and time again, I’ve found myself talking myself down, stressing the details, deciding I’ve failed before I’ve even started and thus, never begun. Perfectionism sure is a sneaky beast that robs you of entering new experiences with lightness or confidence, if you enter into them at all. Yet step by step, uncertainty by uncertainty, I moved forward this time and I owe it all to honesty (and certainly to some truly non-judgemental love from The Chief and friends and to my furry Leto, who sat on my toes or watched me squish cabbage the whole way through).

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute 9 months old

Ice dance.

 

Opening up about my own shortcomings, or things I just see as such, has helped me to see how normal they are. Certainly, mine may not be yours. You might be scoffing at this little backwoods cabbage waster but I’m certain there is something for you too. Some half-finished project, some goal yet unmet, some hidden habit that you feel guilty or sad or embarrassed about. The good news is: you don’t have to! Who knew?! Feeling bad provides little impetus for change. Feeling bad leaves the cabbages rotting and the sauerkraut supply still empty. So go and tell your tale of your closeted self, whoever that may be. Chances are, the person you tell might really, truly need to hear it and I guarantee you’ll feel better.

Best wishes to you and to all of your quirks and flaws and beauty that make you who you are. You are doing just fine.

Cheers to you.

Cheers to honesty.

May it spread to you and yours and beyond.

With love (and sauerkraut),

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alpenglow Alaska

Alpenglow time of year.

 

P.S. Do you too have a fermenting phobia? My friends pointed me towards Nourished Kitchen, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and searching Facebook for helpful groups. There are many salt to cabbage ratios but one tried and true method I’ve heard (and tried) is to make it as salty as the sea. If that’s too vague for you, I totally understand. Let the professionals guide your way, it’s not as scary as I thought. I promise.

P.P.S Beneath the Borealis has been featured on Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2019. Thank you, Feedspot! I’m honored. Check the good company we keep here: Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs

This post is dedicated to Danielle. I love you. Thank you for always encouraging me to keep trying new things in the kitchen and beyond.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Annual Summertime Shower Day Kickoff

In the woods, a working shower is king. It’s like having a four burner stove and an oven. People stop and congratulate you when they hear of your good fortune. No longer will your woodsy world contain the bucket shower or the river dash.

When I first arrived, I took my good fortune for granted. I figured everyone had a shower, running water, a laundry machine. My reality check came quickly in the form of a new friend whom upon my entering the bar (freshly showered, hair washed and all) remarked that “Someone near me has taken a shower and smells wonderful”. Sniffing about he came to me and buried his face in my hair and called others to do the same. “You smell like flowers”.

This town really knows how to roll out the welcome mat. I was in.

Still, it didn’t totally sink in just how exciting  and rare having a real shower was until I saw another new friend running off to take a cleansing dip in the glacial waters of the swimming hole. That must be brisk, to say the best. People trade for showers here: veggies from my garden for a shower and laundry one day. A shower for an hour of tree work. The barter system is alive and well and often water based because really, is there much better after a long dusty day than a shower? I’d be hard pressed to answer “yes”.

“You look radiant! Did you shower today?”

“A few days ago, yes. Thank you”.

This is such a common exchange that not until writing about it did I realize that it ever seemed foreign to me. Year round it is difficult to shower here, even if you have a shower on site. It’s not that people are disinterested, it’s that it’s difficult and time-consuming and so the compliments aren’t just to say “Wow, you smell delicious” but rather a sort of unsaid “Congratulations for making it through the whole process”. A congratulatory compliment for showering? My gosh, my old showering self (at least once daily, or twice if it was a big gym day, which seems so foreign now) would have been to the moon with congratulations.

In Winter, congratulations are even more enthusiastic because it is that much harder to get everything done. It simply is difficult. Correction: in the Summer, it can be difficult (time-consuming to fill up, get systems running, etc.), in the Winter it is basically entering into a long-term relationship with each shower.

A shower this Winter? Well sure, I’d love one! I don’t have anything planned for the next 24 hours so I should be able to get one in. Ideally I’ll be able to as long as all the systems are in place and functioning and all the chores it takes to have a shower don’t take longer than a day.

Let’s see…

 

1st: Start a fire to warm the house (if you haven’t enough wood then start first by gearing up and chopping wood for a while. If you haven’t the logs to chop well, then you are out for a day of logging dead trees. Your shower will have to wait and your planning ahead will have to get in the game).

2nd: Bring the generator inside to warm up.

3rd: Find other chores to fill the next few hours until the generator is cozy and ready to purr, such as pumping gas to later fill the generator with. Afterwards, change your clothes once you come back inside because you’ve inevitably spilled copious amounts of gasoline on them while pumping fuel in your overzealous fashion.

4th: Gear up, buttercup. Gloves and snow pants and parkas, oh my! All to walk 20 feet outside. Bring the generator and watch your step as you carefully navigate the Ramp of Doom. Do Not Fall.

5th: Pull and pull and pull until the pullcord starts the generator. Plug in the well and start filling buckets. Take the buckets (now two at a time since you’ve gotten stronger since you first started this game) 40 lbs. each, one per hand and navigate once again the epic Ramp of Doom no-handed. Ideally some of the gravel your girlfriend spread the other night for fear of face planting on the icy surface still remains and you can find a little grip. Or you can just hightail it and hope for the best. Note: swinging the buckets forward at the last gap between the steps greatly reduces one’s chances of falling.

6th: Fill the reservoir for the shower. It’s around 15 gallons so that means repeating steps 5 & 6 a few times because after three buckets to fill the reservoir and 2 to fill the reservoir under the sink for our “running” water faucet and 1 more to fill the water on the stove and the tea kettle and the water pitcher and your water bottle you still need to fill up the 5 gallon buckets each once more in order to have reserve water for drinking inside.

7th: So, now, nose and eyelashes frozen,  you are all watered up. The house is like a fishbowl. You’re swimming in it. In fact, you look like you actually have been swimming in it because you are soaked. Time for another outfit change. Your fire has dwindled a bit so give her a little extra gusto and start getting the house cooking for your shower time. The water in the shower reservoir needs to warm up a bit too because pumping from the well is nearly frozen water which means, at best, a pretty cold shower even with the water heater working. It’s now around 4pm so you will prep dinner while you wait for the heat to nip at the chill.

8th: It’s 6pm and The Chief comes home. You’ve prepped dinner, chopped wood, done dishes, hauled water, pumped gas, taken a morning walk so as to get at least a little Vitamin D and you are pooped. By the time you’ve finished dinner (and dessert, duh) you’re finally ready to take that shower but boy does it take some serious inspiration. Sleep is calling. It’s been dark since 4pm and your internal clock is ready to snooze. But a few listenings to “Eye of the Tiger”-esque songs and you are ready! You can do this!

You go upstairs and don your robe, get your towel, grab anything and everything you will need for during and post shower and bring down the water catch 10 gallon bucket in which you stand in during your shower to collect water. You then find your stool made from old timber (yea, you’re short) and lift the stairs to their resting place above the middle of the kitchen. You aim not to fall as you secure them into place and weeble wobble on your stool. You then close the pantry door you and The Chief fashioned to protect the goods under the stairs during showers. You hook the shower curtain up around the appropriate nails on the back of the stairs and tuck it into your bucket. Just then you realize that you forgot your washcloth upstairs. It’s too late for that fallen soldier, you decide, because otherwise you’d have to tempt fate again on your wobbly stool, undo all of the hooks, move the shower catch, undo the stairs and then redo it all over again upon retrieving your washcloth. You’ll make do without it, eh?

 

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Water catch, propane and…showertime!

 

9th: It’s time. Alert the chorus, or at least iTunes. It’s shower time people. You hook up the shower to the battery in the living room, check that the hose in the reservoir is submerged, turn on the water heater, turn on the shower head and pray to hear a flow. You do, the heater kicks on, the water goes from freezing to scalding hot and finally evens itself out. This is it, your time to shine. You tag in like the finisher of a relay. Let’s do this.

 

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Not much elbow room but it’s cozy and it works.

 

10th: Just as you’ve suds-ed up your locks and are ready to turn the shower head back on (we do military style showers. Get wet. Turn off shower. Suds up. Turn on shower to rinse. Turn off shower. Repeat repeat with shampoo and conditioner. Water only flows when necessary. Now you know why I love a hotel shower. On demand water? Count me in). You turn it on, avoid both the freezing and the scalding shifts and settle in to de-suds when you hear it.

The entire time you are showering, inside, outside, at a friend’s house, wherever, you are listening. Listening to the pump, listening for correct suction. Listening and waiting for any sound to tell you that something is “off”. Showers are a sort of hyper vigilant auditory escapade. And now, you’ve heard it. A sound to tell you that something is wrong. The water isn’t pulling correctly. Suddenly, it stops. Oh joy. You aim to clear the shampoo in your eyes enough to get out of the shower into a thankfully warm (this time) house to inspect what is happening and unplug the pump before you blow it up (no need to do that more than once in a lifetime, right J?).

11th: You realize that the pesky hose that you so dotingly checked on not 5 minutes before has wound itself into a whirlwind and is now gallantly facing upwards like a gymnast flipping their head back after sticking a landing. You are no longer taking in water. Funny thing about a shower, it requires water. You do your best to submerge it again, even placing a rock from your collection on top of it and eyes burning, head back into your bucket, once again avoiding the cold and the hot in order to take in the joy of the just right.

12th: A few more On and Offs later and you are finally done. You dry off in front of the stove to keep the chill away (the shower rests in between the woodstove and the door and at 20 below, even our big door can’t keep out a draft that would kill a plant placed in front of it in hours. It’s cold.

13th: Post The Chief’s shower, both dry-ish and tired galore it’s time to disassemble the shower until the next one. You get your stool, unhook the curtain and go to start the slow move of the shower catch towards the sink only to realize that a small portion of the curtain was out of the bucket and the floor is sopping wet. Thank goodness it’s currently unfinished. Everything is wet but nothing is ruined and hey, character is added. You clean it up and then together, you lift the bucket over the sink and do a slow pour of human soup into the sink so as not to overwhelm the French Drain. You place the bucket near the fire (though not too close) to dry, unhook the shower from the batteries and are ready to put down the stairs and call it a night when you realize that the shower curtain is still wet and shouldn’t be put away as such and so you leave up the stairs and stare at the dishes that call to you (though not enticingly enough) while you wait for a slightly drier curtain to allow passage up to the sleepy upstairs where your bed rests.

14th: Everything is put away and passage upstairs is granted.

Shower Day complete.

You’re safe upstairs in bed with your wet hair until, of course, nature calls for the last time today and you hurriedly dress and find your boots and socks, run outside and scurry back in afterwards just as quickly. There’s nothing like a crisp night and chilled hair to knock you out of sleep but still the goings on of your day bring you back to slumber. You’re worn out. It was a Shower Day.

 

With Summer here (at least it is on most days, except on the ones where it is freezing at night and dumps rain all day) we were beyond excited to get to shower once again outside. The water drains, there’s no bucket to haul around, the shower is roomier and it is outside so the view is beautiful and the reservoir outside is 55 gallons. It might as well be a hotel shower.

I put up the stairs for the last shower related time until Winter and took out the screws for the door shielding our pantry from shower splatter.

 

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Putting it up originally in December after almost of month of bucket baths. We were stoked.

 

We took down the shower curtain and set it to dry in the sun to be put away later. The shower buckets were both scrubbed and then filled with Winter clothes to bid adieu to until it’s time again to bundle ourselves.

 

And then, we took the shower unit outside. The Chief screwed it into place, we connected the hoses, filled the 55 gallon drum, checked that it was working and then just as it was set-up, had to run off to something or another before we could try it.

No worries, there’s always tomorrow.

Wrong.

Tomorrow followed that night in which the temperatures dropped to below freezing. No big deal, right?

Wrong again.

You see, when we tested the shower that meant that water ran through all of the lines. Lines that when left full on a night below freezing will burst.

Who woulda thunk it? We hadn’t had a freezing night in well over a week.

I did not get the memo.

The next morning (totally unaware) I was pumped, I didn’t even need an “Eye of the Tiger”-esque song. I put on my magenta robe and hightailed it to the shower house. Today was the first of many Summertime Shower Days, the Annual Start. I was walking on air.

And then the winds changed and suddenly I was back to walking in the mud puddles beneath my feet because when I turned on the shower, water started bursting out of the water heater.

That doesn’t seem quite right.

The Chief came and verified that indeed, we were screwed.

I, having very much looked forward to Annual Summertime Shower Day Kickoff, was not giving up. The shower, on the other hand, was. Thankfully, our neighbors’ lines hadn’t burst and they graciously allowed me to come over. When you’re set for a shower, you’re getting a shower. I would have visited every house in the ‘hood until someone let me in, thankfully this robed lady didn’t have to go far. Thank goodness for great neighbors.

That day we ordered a replacement.

I went to Mail Days (Mondays and Thursdays, delivered by plane) stalking the package for the week, knowing full and well that it was unlikely to even arrive within the week.

 

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But it’s not a bad place to wait. Check out that runway.

 

It did! It came on a Thursday (a friend called to tell us we had a large package and see if we needed them to bring it home for us if we were on foot or if we had a car that day to carry it ourselves) and we raced from work to pick it up and then raced home to set it up. After days of painting I was so excited to get in. Just as we finished assembling the last bits we got a call that dinner was waiting on us at a friends’ house. We had been so lost in the set-up that we hadn’t realized that it was almost 10pm.

The shower would have to wait for another day.

Finally Annual Summertime Shower Day Kickoff came. Covered in a week’s worth of paint and dust (the roads here are dirt and thus dust is the coating on everything. My hair spends the Summer feeling like crunchy cereal, except for on…Shower Day!) we were both excited to kick off the Summer Shower Season.

We robed up, toweled up, got our shower supplies and headed out. It was beautiful outside with the Summer light still bright at 10pm by the time we got in. Finally, the first shower of the season. Outside, no buckets, no spilling in the house, no freezing temperatures to crisp up our hair as we went back in. It was perfect.

 

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So, when I went for my second shower of the season some days later I figured it would come about without a hiccup.

Wrong again (third time’s the charm, right?).

It was cold that night but I was a dusty mess and needed to recharge in a warm shower before hitting the sack. I went outside, gassed up the generator, started it, hooked up the batteries for the shower to the generator, hooked up the shower to the batteries, turned on the propane, turned on the shower and the water heater and boom! A beautiful shower…

for about 30 seconds.

Then, the sounds we all listen for and fear started up. Chugging and glugging and…then, nothing. No water.

It turns out that the hose wasn’t topsy-turvy, nor was the pump malfunctioning much. Nope, the problem really was no water. I had forgotten to refill the barrel. So, I got my boots on and shivered in my robe to go off and run the other generator to run the hose to the 55 gallon drum to fill it with water. About ten minutes later the drum was full and everything was working.

 

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I had solicited The Chief’s help on this one and he warned that the water would likely be pretty cold since it had just come out of the barely above freezing well. Oh, a cold shower in the cold outside. This was just what I had ordered.

Well, lucky for me, the order got changed in the kitchen and the water came out hot enough to barely notice the cold temperatures outside.

Until it stopped again.

I knocked on the house to summon The Chief (again).

“What was the sound it was making?” See, I told you we all listen for sounds around here. I told him that the pump was making a fizzing almost bubbling sucking noise.

Time to unhook everything. I’m still learning to troubleshoot this puppy.

“You probably should get back in your robe, babe. This could take a while” he said, looking at me shivering.

There is nothing more dissatisfying after a semi-cold shower than putting on a semi-wet robe. Actually, standing in the cold, shivering and naked with wet hair is worse. Wet robe it is.

After finding a plugged up part of the line and having two false starts the shower was again up and running in ten minutes.

About an hour after robe-ing up and heading outside (and after maybe 15 minutes of actual showering time, which is luxurious, don’t get me wrong) I was done. The Chief took his run at it and came out successful with little to no interruptions (I guess I had worked out all of the kinks, the benefits of being a second showerer in the Summer versus standing in someone else’s water in the Winter if you don’t dump it first).

A year ago, I was taking showers and baths where the hardest thing that might happen was that the water heater would go out and have to be re-lit, which at the time felt like a serious setback. Now, taking a shower here feels like back in California. I essentially just get in and turn it on. Sure, there may be malfunctions but we have a well, we have a 55 gallon drum. Many people haul their water from up to 30 minutes away, some even walk the 30 minutes with 40 lb. buckets in backpacks. That seems near impossible to me. Then again, my showering situation would have seemed near impossible to me a year ago. I guess it’s all in the perspective. And in the necessity.

A year ago, this all would have seemed so foreign. A year ago it did seem so foreign. I basked in my showers not realizing how lucky I was. Now I see it. My perspective has shifted and I hope I never forget how amazing it is to have what we have.

Upon entering someone’s home here, it’s really common to check out their “systems”. How does their water situation work? Is it a dry cabin? Where do they haul water from? A well? How far down did they have to drill? What is their battery or solar situation like? Do they have a slop bucket or a drain? Everywhere we go everyone looks for tips and tricks of the trade. The other night we dropped off friends and admired their new shower system and French Drain in the kitchen. When we got home The Chief said “I hope I never forget how amazing it is to have our own running water in our house”. Luckily for him, he won’t have to. I’ll never forget how scary taking a slop bucket down the Ramp of Doom was in Summer and how happy I was that he installed a French Drain last Fall so that I didn’t have to tempt my fate on the Ramp of Doom with a slop bucket in Winter.

Our simple life may change. We may move on from a two burner so high up on the counter that I had to stand on my tippy toes to be able to cook to a full four burner with an oven.

 

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Our old two burner, recently sent off to a new home at a friend’s house.

 

We may move from bucket showers to pump showers, heck someday we might even have a root cellar but I don’t plan on forgetting where we started: with coolers and specific placement of items at varying distances from a Winter entrance to keep them the right amount of cool. I won’t forget that we are lucky. Lucky to live the simple life that isn’t so simple at first and at second, is more than I could have hoped for.

And, I’m sure if we do forget this simple fact, Alaska will have a swift kick in the rear for us both as a reminder.