homesteadish

Lessons Learned…and then Forgotten: Cauliflower Strikes Again

Oops, Britney Spears, I did it again.

Why in the world I tried after my last debacle, I’m not sure.

Did I think my skin had changed? Or perhaps that it was merely a fluke?

Well, it seems that yes, I did think those things. I must have.

Because…

 

I gave myself cauliflower armpits again.

 

Again!

Oops…

You see, since that post last year, things have changed a bit. That little hair removal flub had me off waxing for a while. I quit cold turkey (after only two forays into the wily world of waxing). My home salon was put on pause, eyebrows aside and I went back to my boy blade and shaving. But then, Winter got the better of me. I was intrigued again and I started the process. I grew out my little hairs and rrrrrrriiiiiiiip! Out they came.

And off I was in a new romance with muslin cloth strips and allergen-free water-soluble wax. As I’ve said, taking a shower here is no easy task and so unless you want to stand naked and shave every morning in a birdbath (in the shape of a tote), you’re not going to have much consistency and you know what I’ve come to realize?

I want consistency.

I love soft legs.

I’ve battled back and forth with why “Am I not enough of a feminist to wear my leg hair with pride?” until I realized that that little quandry was ridiculous. I think I’m plenty full of feminism and I’ve rocked a serious sweater on my gams if that’s something that you think proves it (it’s not) but in all honesty, I just don’t like it as much.

In a relationship with a furry man like I am, I’ll always be the smoother of the two of us but I realized that I don’t just want the smoother title. Besides, being smoother than him is like saying I’m an excellent runner simply because I’m faster than a turtle.

 

 

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Bigfoot!? Oh, no just a hairy Chief man.

 

 

There’s no comparison.

Nope, I didn’t want to just be smoother. I wanted my uber soft legs back. And so, my waxing romance has been going strong, you may or may not be happy to know. I’ve even gotten to the point where I can hold a conversation while doing it. Painful? Mmmm, a little but it doesn’t really bother me. It’s so satisfying.

My goodness I’m starting to sound a bit obsessed, eh? Well, don’t worry, a mishap was bound to happen, right?

It did.

A little bit of laziness came in. The thing is, the waxing that worked for me and my super sensitive skin takes a while. It has to heat up in water in a pot on the stove until it’s just the right consistency (the I Won’t Give You Third Degree Burn Consistency, preferably) and then, typically about half-way through I have to heat it up again, sometimes twice. It’s messy and although it’s water soluble, that doesn’t mean that it’s a breeze to get off the floor or out of my clothing or my non-waxing hair. And then, since it’s reusable (the strips are at least, it’s not magical self-regenerating wax, not yet at least) there’s the whole process of cleaning the strips.

The whole shebang last for hours and in the woods, where everything takes three times as long as it should anyways, the romance I’d had was starting to putter out.

With Summer’s arrival seemingly overnight and a month since my last appointment at Spa de Juju it was time.

Time for the perfect storm apparently.

You see, my girlfriend asked to borrow my wax since she was out and since I still was rocking the leg sweaters with no free day ahead of me to book an appointment with myself I figured I’d just go ahead and give her mine and order more. Some day I’d have time and then, it was back to the old Bic for a while until the manic time warp of Summer was over.

 

 

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and the first bloom of River Beauty tells me that will be a while…

 

 

But then, I got leg envy. I brought the wax to Town for her but we never connected and everytime I looked at it and then looked down at my leggies I wanted to act. But the wax was for her, I couldn’t take it back and so I tried the next “best” thing.

I used the fast and easy, ready made Cauliflower Armpit Inducing Strips from last year (that should have already been at my other girlfriend’s house since I had said that I’d give them to her last year, tucked away safe from my tempted self). I did one strip on my leg and waited a day and it was fine.

And so, I went for it.

I had the waxing bug where you just get ready to get it over with, like waiting to jump out of a tree on a rope swing. You just have to go for it. I was going for it, full backflip into the water and all.

And…it was amazing! I took a break from work and it was done in 30 minutes, no heating or reheating or sticky drops all over the floor and when I was done, it all went bye-bye into the trash.

I was feeling very proud and very metropolitan (and slightly guilty of being wasteful).

Until this morning.

You see, the mosquitos are out in full force. They are fast and ruthless and can keep up with me even at a fast clip. They don’t mess around. And so when I awoke this morning to an itchy armpit I knew immediately who the culprit was: dang mosquitos!

I heard them buzzing about and whipped out a few karate chop moves (even though they are jerks, I still feel badly plotting murder but it had to be done). Once I’d secured the area I went back to itching. This was a bad one. It felt like my entire armpit was on fire and it hurt more than most bites do and boy was it swelling.

Oh well, back to bed.

It turns out…I was wrong.

It wasn’t a mosquito, it was me.

That whole backflip into the water thing?

Belly flop.

 

 

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Yup. Still allergic. Still sensitive. Still the same old me, just none the wiser.

Even as I was going through the “easy” waxing and giggling to myself at how easy it was, I had a sinking feeling as I saw the bumps start to rise. But then, they vanished and off I went on a long (probably agitating) walk to Town followed by a game of Softball.

Whoops!

It seems a lesson learned by me is also a lesson quickly forgotten, as if time is some sort of magician who distorts reality.

And so now, I’m stuck with another round of Cauliflower Armpits. At first I thought it was just the one but no, no, no. How could it be?

 

 

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That look says it all

 

 

Perhaps, in my fourth year, I’ll learn. I wont’ commit the foibles of my freshman, sophomore and junior Summers. I’ll be a senior, big man on campus and perhaps, when I high-five people they won’t have to stare into the abyss that is a Cauliflower Armpit.

Perhaps.

We played a show on Saturday and despite the threat of rain and the chill that came with it, I was onstage with little more than a tank top because of the pain my pits were giving me. So I tried to give them air (and tried not to frighten the crowd with my angy armpits).

I think, now that I look back that a little part of me dismissed the irritation last year as being caused by shaving afterwards (I wasn’t very good at the whole waxing thing back then and had given up after a small effort) and another little mischevious part of me planned to see if that was true.

Well, wasn’t that a fun little game to play with myself.

I sure am glad we picked up our plant babies.

Aloe, to the rescue.

Sort of. Really, relief I think is spelled T-I-M-E and as I realize how impatient I am with it, I hope, hope, hope that I will finally learn this lesson, two sets of painful armpits later.

Fingers crossed.

Be safe out there, kiddos and try to remember the lessons you’ve learned, but especially those you’ve forgotten.

Happy home-spa-ing to you!

Ouch.

 

 

 

 

An Independence Pendulum and a Lady Lynx Meet in the Woods…

My state of independence is a pendulum, often landing in the farthest reaches of either extreme.

I’m trying to quiet the extremes and focus on circling the middle, the compromise in between. Which is why I know that when my gut tells me to do something but my pendulum of independence is starting to sway towards staying in the safe zone that it’s time to push myself.

To others, it may sound trite, even a bit pathetic. I’m o.k. with that. There are things for all of us that come easily that for others are mountains they continuously attempt to climb. Independence is my mountain and extremes are my unexpected avalanches in the mountains. I’ve done a lot of independent things in my life, but I’ve also forgotten myself too, forgotten to trust my gut or to get out of comfort for the sake of expansion or been overly independent just to prove I can despite the damage it may cause. Independence is my mountain.

So, when we came back from Anchorage last time, having not had time for much supply gathering at all (supplies which will ideally last us for the Summer, not just a month or two since both of us will hopefully be working so much that a run to Anchorage will be unlikely, if not impossible and we will have to rely upon the garden, the expensive Summer store and the kindness of others coming in for re-supplies) and planned that on our return trip for The Chief’s post-operation check up we would do all of our errands in one day since we no longer had to come in a day early to drop off the truck for service. Well, I started thinking. One day for everything?

The independence pendulum awoke.

When we were first arriving, about to touch down in Anchorage for the first time together in December we were fleshing out our town plans. The Chief was trying to explain how to strategize, how we had to watch the weather if we bought anything that couldn’t freeze. How we would have to pack and re-pack the truck over and over again and how we would store vegetables versus frozens, etc. etc. It was a lot to take in. “It’s hard to explain, people always have a hard time understanding it”.  I was offended. People? Maybe. Me? Not a chance.

Wrong (though still offended).

I still kept trying to buy perishables, still forgot we would have to unload our haul into the hotel before ending our day lest the weather shift to below freezing. I didn’t quite get it yet, didn’t have my rhythm. I needed The Chief and it bothered me. I wanted to do it all on my own.

Wrong again.

What I really wanted was to feel that I could do it all on my own. A town run with the man of your dreams is way better than going it completely solo, duh. Even if you do both get grumpy at times.

However, there is an independence pendulum compromise: time alone in town. A town run with your partner tends to involve mutual errands. Time alone means time for personal errands. It feels extravagant.

When we got home, well, I got to thinking that we were cutting our town time awfully close. We would leave on a Thursday (get in Thursday night), have a doctor’s appointment and errands all day Friday and leave for home early Saturday. Essentially, we would have one day in town. One day to get all of our supplies and materials for the Summer.

Add to that my wish to pick up some Summer clothing.

You see, my plan when we left in December was to return to California at some point in the Spring in order to cuddle my Mama, hug my friends, greet the Ocean and collect my Summer clothes.

That did not happen. Tickets to California were consistently over $600 and with additional travel costs it just didn’t pan out financially.

So, I was in the woods, with Winter clothes to get me through the Summer. It was less than ideal.

I started scheming. A plan started forming in my heard. We had a car to drive and plenty of friends headed out the same day we had planned to leave. But what if I just left a day earlier? I could get to Anchorage and do all the personal shopping I would have race through if we only had one day. I could wander through a clothing store without a strict agenda, browse if you will. I could stop at a spice shop or purchase some yarn. Pure luxury! Time wouldn’t be of the essence every second of the day and maybe I could even get a few things for the house that we never have the time to collect when we are pressed for time and sanity in town.

I talked to a girlfriend about my blossoming idea. “Oh yea, I love solo town time. You should totally do it”.

The opposite side of independence pendulum kicked in. What about The Chief? He had just had surgery. He needed me, right?

I brought it up to him. “Go for it, babe. That’s probably a really smart idea”.

I was a little miffed. Huh, I guess he doesn’t realize how much he needs me. I mean, what if he has to pump water? He’s not supposed to lift anything. I should probably stay.

I rolled around with the idea but felt that it had come from my gut and therefore, it was a challenge to myself to get out of my comfort zone. I was trying to suppress it but it’s voice just got louder and louder. The Chief would be fine and the fact that I was reticent to take the trip at all meant all the more to me that I indeed needed to do it, not just for necessity, I could find clothes or make something, but to challenge my independence.

I’d made the trip in the Summer completely solo, Costco and all. I even had to finagle ratchet straps to fit a vehicle that didn’t take the straps and tetris-ed the hell out of the car so that it was loaded to the brim. Of course I could go solo, it was simply that I had become accustomed to going with The Chief. To our rhythm, to our process. And honestly, to being more of a passenger and less of a driver. At least in winter. As the Spring sprung and The Chief’s sinuses were constantly being bombarded with surgeries and appointments, I became more of a driver, both literally and figuratively. We figured out our plans together, debated on the best routes and errands line-ups and packing methods. I was involved. This was just another step.

So I did it. I left a day early and thank goodness I did. One, because I got to leisurely peruse a few stores and then together we were able to collect all the Summer supplies and two because on the way out I got to see her.

The Lynx.

The week before, The Chief and I had seen a Lynx, just the tail end of her, fuzzy paws jumping through the brush.

 

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She looked like this…minus most of the snow

 

As I departed a week later, listening to an audiobook and finding my own road trip rhythm again, I suddenly thought of The Lynx. I was almost exactly half-way down the 60 mile pothole riddled dirt road and suddenly, the thought of her hit me like a slap in the face.

I unintentionally slowed down and as I did, there she was.

 

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She jumped into the woods on the driver’s side. I scanned her entrance point to see if I could catch a glimpse as she ran away but I didn’t have to watch her tail end this time. This time she stopped and turned towards me. We watched one another for five minutes. Her silent, me awkwardly complimenting her enormous fuzzy feet and pointed ears. I felt like a bumbling suitor asking out my first date. “Wanna, er, umm, maybe wanna go, umm, like, see like a movie, or no? Or yea?”

 

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Seriously, look at the head to foot comparison. Those things are adorably massive.

 

She gave me one last look and then as soon as our gaze was broken, she became invisible. Completely dissolved into the woods. I felt like I had been in a time warp or an alternate universe, she’d opened a little wormhole and invited me in and clumsily I had accepted, commenting on the drapes or the furniture as we went along.

I continued on my journey, feeling a bit in an honored haze.

 

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Mountains and glaciers and raindrops, oh my!

 

Hours later, when I finally reached (almost) Anchorage and had stopped for my first non-Chief stop (a craft store! Be still my heart) I called a girlfriend I had been missing and we finally got to connect. I told her of Lady Lynx and she immediately looked up the significance of the animal (I love her. Not in a million years would I have remembered to do that. Thank goodness for West County).

The Lynx tells us to listen to our hearts and to trust our instincts. Seeing one is a reminder that we are always expanding, even if it sometimes feels foreign or scary.

Boom!

O.k. okay, I can hear a few grumblings. What’s that woo-woo mumbo jumbo I hear? And I get it, but for one, I grew up in a town where hearing someone comment on another’s aura was commonplace and two, I think there’s always room to look past the obvious and search for a deeper meaning, even if in a sense, it’s self-created. Read a horoscope and have a revelation or perhaps just look at the day a little differently? Good. Nothing is harmed in seeing significance where another might just see a big ‘ol cat and you know what? Neither is correct, neither is wrong. But to me, the magic was just what I needed. She helped me to see the big sky instead of the little road.

 

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The symbolism of the Lynx followed me throughout my town time, all the way to leaving. You see, the night before, we had thought it a great idea to stay up late, eat at a late night diner and head out for a huge trip home the next day. Genius, right? We went to bed with grumbling tummies, cuddled up to try to take away the other’s aches.

It didn’t work.

We both awoke with food poisoning-esque symptoms (fun, huh?). It was a toss-up. Who wants to drive the first stretch? The first stretch means town traffic, errands and winding mountain passes. The second means two stops, the later stretch of a long day and…The Road.

Oh, did I mention that we were also hauling the largest load I’d ever taken? First, the truck itself is an F-350 which I barely fit in followed by two barrels of gasoline (110 gallons plus the two tanks on the truck), about 2,000 feet of fire hose donated to The Chief for the Fire Department and all of our shopping loads plus a friend’s shopping load, a generator and all of our bags. Needless to say, thank goodness the ratchet straps fit on this load. We were packed to the brim. Sideview mirrors only.

I crossed my fingers to get the first half while I simultaneously crossed them for the second since at the moment I felt about ready to vomit at the drop of a hat and I don’t ever vomit, unless I have food poisoning.

The Chief took the first leg of the trip to the Fire Department and we decided we would choose halfs there. We stopped and ogled their shiny new equipment. I turned down coffee and donuts which is a testament to the food poisoning because I’ve never willingly turned down a donut. It was rough. Finally we departed and met up with our girlfriend whom was joining us for the ride. We each did our last perishables run at Fred Meyer, switching out who was watching the truck (while trying not to get blown away by the wind) with who was grocery shopping. We filled our gas drums for what seemed like eternity in the whipping winds that made the mountains hard to see and that almost flung The Chief off the top of the truck as he pumped the gas.

A dramatic start but it was smooth sailing after that.

There’s a time in an 8 hour journey when you switch drivers and then a time right after that (if you haven’t switched) that you decide to just do the whole route solo. We were nearing that crossroads, I could feel it. I was still nauseous and starting to feel the weight of my eyelids when The Chief asked if I was ready to drive. I felt nervous, so I knew it was time.

“Yep!” I answered, trying to convince myself through a peppy response that this was gonna be fun!

Switch we did and after I had created a booster seat out of a loaf of french bread and some Fred Meyer bags we were off. It wasn’t so bad. It was still hard to simultaneously reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel (I’m not sure why I thought I might have grown since last week but I did) but the load wasn’t all that noticeable. It felt good to drive such a burly haul of our supplies in for the Summer and the bringing in of a friend made it feel even more like a journey home. I even sent my older brother a picture. Look at me! (I’ll probably never stop wanting to hear “Wow, good job Sis!” What can I say? I’m a little sis).

Then, we stopped for gas right outside of the rock parting that begins The Road.

“Is there anything I should know about driving this size load on The Road?” I asked The Chief, half hoping he would offer to drive it and half hoping I would have the strength to say no.

He did and so did I. And so, he gave me some pointers:

Slow down way before you need to (oh, great, so hopefully something doesn’t jump out in front of us)

and

Avoid the potholes.

I thought he was going to laugh after the latter comment (the potholes are essentially unavoidable) but he was trying to drive home the importance of keeping a vigilant eye for the big potholes, the ones that could pop a tire (or worse). The gravity of the load weighed on me a bit, which again meant I was doing something I was scared of. Hopefully I would grow from it.

I jumped in the truck and ate poor excuses for the earlier dismissed donuts for sugar courage (we had stopped for coffee again after I had spilled most of my cup on myself after taking the wheel. Nothing quite like that to inspire confidence. The store didn’t have coffee and so, in true Alaska fashion, they brewed me a whole pot). In the cab, munching away, I looked to my girlfriend whom after days in the Lower 48 and waiting for rides in Alaska was probably über ready to get home. “I’m new to driving such a big load, but I’ll go as fast as I can”. Before I could finish my sentence she looked at me calmly and said “You drive exactly how you will feel comfortable. Nothing more”. Yea, I knew I liked her.

The Road took over 3 hours. The potholes were plentiful as were the hidden bumps in the road. I hit a few and missed a few and got away with a truck and load intact. We stopped twice and turned around once to have a beer and catch up with friends we passed on The Road. A few miles from our turn off we dropped off our girlfriend. As we started undoing the load to get to her stuff she came tearing around the corner backwards on a 4-wheeler. Totally badass. She thanked us and shooed us off, she could secure her load herself she said and off we went the last few miles to home.

Down the driveway as we started hitting mud and muck again I worried that we needed the 4-wheel drive. But no sooner than I thought that, I felt the tires hit the tracks of trucks before us and as if drawn in through magnets we shimmied our way through the narrow drive all the way home.

“You got us all the way home in this big ‘ol truck. Nice work, babe” The Chief congratulated me.

I was proud. Proud that I had challenged myself, proud that I had gotten us home and proud to be with someone who pushes me towards my challenges and supports me through them instead of sheltering me from them or taking them on for me.

My challenges may not be yours. They may seem petty or downright ridiculous. Hey, maybe yours would to me too but that would be both of us missing the point. We should serve as a Lynx instead, reminding one another of the strength we all have within to meet our challenges, big and small, head on. We should be my girlfriends, encouraging one another to go for it and at our own pace.

Living out here has put me in a place where I can choose to challenge myself and to boost my independence or to lean on The Chief and sit back while he drives. We all can do it everywhere but I think I personally needed this place, a place where new challenges are so plentiful and so unique on the daily that not taking them would be a life un-lived and a place un-participated in. I would be missing the point but I neede a dramatic place to help me see that.

And so I try to meet my challenges head on. I try to say “yes” to a driving lesson, even if I’m not totally up for it or “yes” to snowmachining across a frozen river because challenges don’t typically come when we are wearing our battle gear, they come when we are in pajamas with tangled hair and sleepy eyes. But sometimes, that’s battle gear enough.

Cheers to the pendulum of independence, to the scary, to the self-expansion and to the challenges.

May we meet them head on…ideally, with helmets.

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Lumberjane and the Not So Easy, “Easy Tree”

I did it.

I took down my first tree.

When we arrived in December the idea of logging was very Disney-esque to me. I pictured a bearded Lumberjack in plaid yelling “Timber!” as a gargantuan tree fell, crushing smaller trees on its way down and sending nature all around it off in a hurry. Birds chirping, squirrels chattering, the forest awakened by the sudden change. And then, the Lumberjack would throw the logs over his shoulder and whistle as he walked away to a warm cabin not so far away.

In all honesty, this wasn’t so far from reality, but it definitely brushed over a few major aspects.

First, apparently, we don’t yell “Timber!” anymore. This was a real shocker but I believe I can get the momentum going to bring that one back.

Second, there’s a lot more involved in falling a tree than chopping or sawing through it. First, there’s the picking out of the tree. Here, we try to always avoid green wood (trees that are still alive), at least for firewood. That way it doesn’t have to cure as long before you can use it and you’re not killing a tree without reason. Finding a tree that is dead but “healthy” (meaning not rotten or taken over by beetles, etc.) is a good challenge especially when coupled with the reality that you’ll need to find a tree that won’t get “hung up” on (fall into) other trees. You spend a lot of time evaluating the lean and shape of the tree and its surroundings.

Then, there is cutting it down.

There are three cuts. The first is a level (as perfectly level as possible which is difficult when you are holding a saw that is too heavy for you) cut about a third of the way through the tree. The second completes The Face Cut and angles down into the tree from above the first cut and meets up at its edge. It creates a cut-out like a big slice of watermelon. This cut is awkward and hard. All sides have to line up. All the while, you are watching your tree, watching for movement, checking your lines to make sure the cut is accurate, level and correctly angled. Then, you make your Back Cut. It starts at the back of the tree, a bit above the level of the first cut (if you’re actually looking to cut down a tree please take don’t use this as a manual – there are precise measurements for how much above the Face Cut one goes and information on angles and techniques a plenty, but not here my friend). It too must be level but you need to be able to trust your saw skills enough to not have to watch yourself cutting and instead be able to affix your eyes to your tree. Is it moving? Wobbling? Does it look like it’s going to fall where you want it? If not, it’s time for some quick moves. Oh, and speaking of quick moves you always need to be aware of your “out”. Playing If the Tree Falls This Way, I Go This Way isn’t just a game for fun. You need to look at your surroundings and see or create (cut down nearby branches, etc.) your escape for if something goes wrong.

Third, you don’t always wear plaid and the forest animals (at least in the Winter) are tucked away sleeping, not jabbering about your falling technique. It’s relatively quiet (well, at least until the chainsaw runs).

Fourth, there’s a lot of clean-up involved and a day of tree falling is always accompanied by a lot of brush work which thankfully normally leads to the day ending with a bonfire. Oh, and hauling the logs is not done on the shoulder, double barreled. It takes smart angles and momentum (and sometimes two people) to get the lengths into the sled. After which you drive them with your snow machine to your drop spot (ours is in front of our woodshed) where you tip the sled over to empty it and head back for another load again and again until the logs are all moved and you’ve finished hauling brush and brush and brush.

Fifth, safety is cool. Ear protection and eyewear, though both may make you look like a bug (you’ll see what I mean in a later picture) both are protecting some serious assets. Wear them.

So clearly, Disney had led me slightly astray (insert little girl gasping sound!). I had a lot to learn when it came to cutting down a tree. From picking one out to cutting techniques to safety precautions, the more logging we did the more I realized how little I knew and my goal of cutting down a tree before Winter’s end started to seem like a pipe dream.

Besides, I was really good at running the clean-up effort. I could knock off branches with the swish of an axe and had learned to maneuver logs that were almost as tall as me into the logging sled. I had made progress. So what if I didn’t take one down on my own? I mean, if you’re there to lick the spoon and clean up the mess, it’s basically like you baked the cookies, right?

Not really. But with Winter coming to an end and logging becoming more difficult in the shallowing snow, I had kind of resigned myself to waiting for next year. Kind of.

I think The Chief sensed this resignation but knowing how much I had wanted to do it, he found a way around it. We didn’t have to go to the trees and try and pull sleds in melting snow. The trees were right in front of us.

So, one Sunday we decided it was First Time Falling Day. The Chief picked out a near dead tree on the property that needed to go and off we went. Well, sort of.

We went to get the chainsaw (the smaller of the two, still too big for me) and it was gone. A little sleuthing sent us to the neighbor’s house but on the way there we heard a ruckus.

Two dogs and two people arrived at our house just as we rounded the corner towards the opposite direction.

**Sidenote: one of my favorite things about this place is that everywhere you go, humans and dogs are either in equal numbers or the people are outnumbered. It’s pretty much Heaven on Earth.

“Well, I guess that project is on pause” The Chief said.

I couldn’t believe the relief I felt. I had felt a twinge of it when we couldn’t find the saw but just figured I was being lazy. Now, the relief of knowing we were being derailed by visitors and I wouldn’t have to attempt the fall made me relieved which also made me annoyed at myself. But I tabled the realization as I swallowed my frustration with myself and went to meet the droppers by.

An hour and an invite to dinner and music by an outside fireplace later and I figured that the derailment was final. No trees would be dropped today.

Wrong.

The Chief was ready. We were taking down a tree and by We he meant Me. I was weeble-wobbling back and forth. I was feeling nervous but I did want to try. We headed back towards our neighbor’s house and found the saw. It had been taken apart.

Aww shucks, I guess we can’t cut today!

Wrong (again).

We headed back home where The Chief showed me how to put a saw back together again. We re-upped all of the oils and gas and we were ready to go…sort of. A ponytail suddenly felt highly important and I excused myself to go inside and attend to this must-have. Inside, I got my battle gear on. I had been wearing running pants and a baggy sweatshirt. I did not feel the part of a Lumberjane. A ponytail, snow pants, tougher boots and a zip-up later and I was feeling a little more put together and a little more up to the task. Next time I think I’ll reach for the charcoal too and give myself a little warpaint. That’ll do the trick.

So, a personal pump-up later and I was ready. Except I hadn’t run the chainsaw in over a month and I needed a little re-teach. The one thing I immediately remembered was how awkward the saw feels to me. I am left-handed (insert ominous soundtrack here). Our saw is not. I consistently grab for it with the wrong hands and consistently see things backwards, flipping it over on the wrong side or angling from the opposite side I’m supposed to. It’s like working in reverse. As I became reacquainted with the saw and got it running (nothing feels more Lumberjane-y than pulling to start a saw and getting the cord choked up. Nothing flips over except your pride) I started looking at the tree The Chief had handpicked for this newbie.

It seemed a little crooked.

 

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It’s the bigger of the two on the right. The one with the gangsta lean right behind target practice.

 

The reason it seemed a little crooked was that it was a little crooked. Pretty darn crooked, if you asked me, but hey, I’m the newbie, what do I know?

We started discussing the plan of attack and the moment came when we both realized that maybe the tree was a little crooked for a beginner, but as per usual, true Alaskan style always likes to take you out on a limb so we decided to go for it.

**Sidenote: The moment that made us realize this tree was a toughie was when we realized that I would have to brace myself on one knee in order to make the first cut. Ah, how valiant! A kneeling cut. How very fancy!

Having a saw blade running near you is an intense feeling. It’s waves of excitement mixed with waves of caution. It’s a heightened state where your every move is precise and premeditated.

Or, you’re like me and still trying to get the hang of the basics and your attention is all over the place. But, putting a saw above and in front of your face will help to focus your attention.

The first cut was pretty simple (other than flipping the saw over the wrong way at first – again, lefty problems). The next, the one to create the melon slice, was a little harder. The ground was mossy and icy and it was hard to find balance with a too big saw overhead, much less to create a perfect angle. The Chief had to help guide me but eventually the ends met up. We evaluated the cuts, looked from behind them to see how we thought the tree would fall and decided that we were lined up as perfectly as we could be.

Time for the back cut.

About halfway through The Chief yelled for me to look up. I had been so focused on getting through the cut that I hadn’t even checked on what the tree itself was doing.

She was wobbling.

“Keep going, but watch her as you go” The Chief shouted over the saw and our ear protection.

I did and then I started to hear cracks. The tree was falling. Falling. Falling.

Right into the clearing we were aiming for.

I turned off the saw and just watched for a moment. Everything during the cuts is so loud and so intense that once the tree falls everything suddenly feels very quiet. There’s a finality to the moment that was somewhat lost on me until I cut the tree down myself. A pause. An honoring. A thank you for letting us use your fuel to heat ourselves. And a nod to the cycle you’ve changed and the new cycle that will begin.

From this…

 

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To This…

 

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Little tiny nature miracles wake you up from the quiet.

And then…there’s a celebration. At least there was in our case. There were hugs and high-fives and smooches to be had.

 

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See, we look like bugs, but safe bugs.

 

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Not completely dead, but totally rotten. A beauty, nonetheless

 

My first tree!

“To the first of many” congratulated The Chief.

 

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Yes, a little crooked, I’d say.

 

Since we were now somewhat late to dinner we decided to buck up the tree (cut it into lengths that are more easily manueverable. Later they will be cut into lengths that will fit into the  fireplace and later will be chopped into wood for fires) when we had time to do it right. Maybe I’d even do it on my own when The Chief was at work (maybe, probably not but at that moment anything seemed possible).

The Chief headed off to check on a charging 4-Wheeler battery and I went inside to get ready. I was starving, all that adrenaline had gotten my heart pumping but I knew we were headed to dinner so I looked for something quick and settled on some salami. Normally, I would cut up smaller slices, maybe with some cheese and apples and sit for a snack but no way, this Lumberjane was tough and in a rush. I cut off a chunk and popped it into my mouth, bit down and…

broke off a piece of my tooth.

 

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I think I swallowed it too, just for good measure.

 

What in the heck? I just had a chainsaw inches away from my face, running full throttle. I just cut down a 45ft. tree and I come inside and break my tooth on salami? Something is wrong here. Or actually, perfectly on point. Of course that would happen here. Just when you think you’re safe and solid, a little reminder heads your way.

Don’t get cocky.

Do call a dentist.

Well, eventually. It’s not all that bad, The Chief couldn’t even tell which tooth (it’s the bottom left front tooth) but my tongue sure could. I kept feeling the newly rough crag over and over throughout the night. At first I was annoyed with myself. How careless. But then I decided instead to see it for what it was: a good reminder of how fast a slip-up can happen and to listen to your intuition.

Something had whispered to me that I should cut up the salami and maybe if I had the peppercorn that broke my tooth wouldn’t have hidden so well but I didn’t listen and so I met the consequences. I realized that I was lucky that it was this small reminder of how fast things happen out here (and how far away a doctor is) instead of a reminder in the shape of a chainsaw accident.

Yes, I cut down a tree and yes, it was cause for celebration but no, it does not make me a skilled Sawyer by any means.

Maybe a Lumberjane in Training though, I’m good with that. And as long as I remember that I’ll be in training for a long time, as long as I remember not to get too big for my flannel shirts, well then I’m happy to keep learning and earning the name of a Lumberjane.

 

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Home is Where the Hard is

My girlfriend in Norway texted me this morning. “Help” was the first text. “Help me choose a kitchen” with a link to a website was the second.

You see, she is remodeling.

And I guess we are too.

Two kitchens. Two continents. Worlds apart.

Since moving into The Chief’s house it has become our house. Our home. It felt like home the first time I arrived and has ever since. But, as I mentioned in this post, it was a bachelor pad, like a perma-bachelor pad. And so we have slowly been making it ours.

The thing is, projects in the woods can get a bit tricky. It’s not like we can hop in the car and take a quick trip to Home Depot and stop for lunch on the way home (oh to eat a meal and simply walk away from the mess, that is luxury). We can’t just pop into town.

Town is Anchorage.

Town is 8-10 hours away, depending on the weather.

It’s a three day minimum commitment. Your house will freeze along with everything in it and if you’re lucky enough to have work, you’ll have to take time off. You’ll have to brave glacier riddled roads and icy highways and you must be able to carry all the supplies on your vehicle because strangely enough, stores don’t deliver out here.

So, the best alternative is to do it yourself. Source your own materials and make it work.

The Project: kitchen shelving

The Plan: build them from scratch

The Materials List: it all started a few years back…

In essence, our kitchen project started years ago. Before we even found one another. Our neighbor cut down the trees that would then be taken to another resident’s property to be milled into the biggest size possible. The now beams were eventually brought back over to our joint property by another neighbor where they sat…and sat…

Fast forward to present day and a stretch of time off from work for The Chief due to…you guessed it…a need for more supplies. So, as the job site was restocking we made use of the time off and started a “simple” kitchen project. We figured it would take a day or two. That was cute of us.

Day one: After suiting up for the cold, The Chief headed  out to the beam site. Shovel and axe in hand he chopped and chopped through ice and feet of snow until he wrestled two free.

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Wolf patrol. So many things to pee on.

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Sniff it out, dig it out.

I suited up myself and helped him to lift the beams onto the sawhorse.

I’m a pretty strong little bundle of a 5′ 3 (and 3/4)” lady but this 12-foot hunk of future shelving was a serious workout. At least I wasn’t cold anymore.

The beams on the other hand, they were cold. Frozen to be exact and at ten degrees outside, they weren’t thawing out any time soon. This seemed like a serious threat to our shelf building escapade. Out came the hammers. We hammered away the large chunks of ice and used the other side (the Claw, I’m told) to scrape. It was slow going. We found angled metal that worked as a scraper too but still, a great deal of ice remained and there was no way we could get those beams inside the house to thaw. The Chief smiled. He had a little trick up his parka: a weed burner. It’s exactly what it sounds like (unless you’re from California, then see the following explanation): basically it’s a torch used to burn down weeds but hey, I’m all about multi-purpose tools.

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So we spent the next hour or so burning off the freeze and the rest of the afternoon logging for the next project.

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Logging means brush…which means bonfire time

The next day was colder and it was harder to motivate to head out into it. But, of course, in true Alaska fashion, once we did motivate and had just finished defrosting the second log friends from across the river announced their arrival via snow machine. Our work was done for the day.

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The next day was full of bright blue skies and recently refrozen rivers. We couldn’t just burn weeds all day, we had to greet the blue and so the project was pushed off again.

Sidenote: this whole “go with the flow” attitude isn’t natural for me. I’m learning it. It feels irresponsible because it sometimes chooses fun over work but isn’t it just as bad to choose work over play simply because you “should”? I’m still figuring that one out. Dang Puritan work ethic. But I do know that it seems criminal to live in a 13 million acre national park and not explore it when you have the perfect day to do so…so we did.

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The Chief testing the thickness of the ice off to the right

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If it can hold this little guy it can hold us, right?

Finally, on the fourth day, things started coming together. The weather had turned (this always seems to happen. Good thing we took advantage of the day before) to grey skies and snow. The Chief and I suited up and got to milling. The wood was actually in pretty good shape considering its snowy grave and we were able to get three boards milled.

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We made shelves until five o’clock when we realized we were going to be late for the dinner plans we had made at a friend’s house up the hill. Time for a pause.

Sidenote: By “We made shelves” I mean The Chief mainly measured, cut and screwed in the boards. I learned (relearned) how to calculate a hypotenuse (and just now how to spell it again), how the miller and saw worked and how to brace shelving. I was in charge of aesthetic and placement and that’s great but it’s one thing to tell someone where to place something and another to place it oneself. I wish I could say we were both out there at the same time doing the same work but the truth is, I just didn’t know enough and when you only have so many materials, it’s pretty essential not to mess up. And while there’s nothing wrong with being the one who runs to get the materials or reminds you both to eat an apple, I can’t wait for the day when I lead the work. Luckily, The Chief is happy to share the position. Outside of my mom, no one has ever had so much faith in me to be able to do anything I set my mind to. From teaching me to run a chainsaw to encouraging me to lead us home at night on snow machines, he’s the best cheerleader (and the hairiest) anyone could ask for.

Before. During. After.

A few hours later, too full from dinner and too excited to sleep, we started finding new homes for things and brainstorming the next steps. I love these moments together. Just the two of us, making plans, trying out ideas and laughing together if they fail, knowing full and well that we will make it work. There’s nothing like living in a little cabin to get your creative organizing skills flowing and there’s nothing better than a partner in crime to dream with.

The next day it was snowing again so we waited until it abated and then started on the corner shelves. It took up until the dinner bell at the neighbor’s house was ringing (two homemade dinners that we didn’t have to home make in one week?! Hallelujah!) to finish. Two shelving projects down and an infinite number left to complete but a serious pat on the back is in order.

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For the last two days, every time we would walk into the kitchen (which means every time you come in the house or walk from the living room. Tiny house, remember?) we would marvel at our completed project.

And then this morning I got the Norwegian text and it made me realize how different my world has become. Never in my life did I think I would help mill the tree a friend cut down and make my own shelving (shoot, I’d never even met someone who’d cut down a tree for lumber before). Never did I think I would work in the snow and the cold in the middle of winter in Alaska. Never did I think I’d meet my person in the middle of the woods. Never did I think it would happen, but I did hope for this life.

I was looking for a “hard” life, even if I didn’t know it. And it is hard, in the best ways. Things take three times longer. Each project becomes a town effort as you run out of screws or borrow tools but the “hard” is what makes it feel so good to hammer in that final nail. The “hard” shows you how hard things could actually be and how lucky we are. The “hard” is what makes it home. Our home.

 

 

A Typical Day: A Panty Party

I’ve often been asked what a typical day is like out here.

What do you do all day?

In preparing to move here, I tried to remind myself that no matter how much you plan, Alaska often decides for you and having never spent a winter in Alaska, I was going in totally blind.

But that didn’t stop me completely. I planned. I planned on reading a lot, on learning to knit and to get better at sewing, to Billy Madison myself (start over and learn it all again), to create a daily exercise regime, to make art and do all the home projects we weren’t able to complete in the fall.

…and then I got here.

And now I get it.

The first week I was here, I wanted to do it all but the thing is, everything else needed to get done. And that’s a typical day. The overarching theme of a day is to decide:

  1. What needs to get done and
  2. What is actually feasible

I first started Today lists like this:

  1. Wake up early and go for a walk, then 30 minutes of yoga
  2. Make breakfast
  3. Read
  4. Laundry
  5. Call mom
  6. Have lunch
  7. Write a letter
  8. Chop wood
  9. Call bank
  10. Call car insurance
  11. Make dinner, heck, even make cookies

And this is all fine and dandy when you have power and life isn’t contingent upon weather but this is the actual day that follows a list like the above:

  1. Wake up at…the time your body is ready. My first week I set a daily alarm for 8am and I could not wake up to it. I was beyond tired. Unless The Chief is headed to work (which is atypical for winter but luckily present this winter and so we do have alarm days) we don’t set an alarm. This gave and still does give me a bit of a panic…and that is why I’m here, to learn to listen to my body to take the hours it needs. It feels overindulgent for a busybody worker bee like myself and that’s when I know I need the lesson even more.
  2. Get up and bundle up to go pee. Oh yes, nothing like a brisk 20 below zero and a chilly behind to wake you right up. This is the time of day you wish you were a boy (unless you already are…congratulations). Ah, and brace yourself for what we call The Ramp of Doom. No sleepy eyed wanderings down this bad boy. Hidden frozen patches will have you on your behind in no time.

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    There’s even a gap between the landing and the ramp for added fun

  3. Make a fire (unless you had to chilly pee in the middle of the night and also stoked the fire – two gold stars for that one, but who needs stickers when you’re warm in bed?) thumb_DSC_0207_1024
  4. Make coffee and assess the day. Laundry? Booyah! It’s beyond overdue (it’s amazing the things you suddenly decipher as “clean” when all your laundry is by hand). But, a slight kink in the plan…you’re out of water. These bad boys (two 5 gallon buckets) are how we store water in the house. thumb_DSC_0231_1024But again, they are nearly empty.
  5. O.K, so get the genie (generator), hook it to the well and fire that baby up! Wait. It’s 20 below. The generator is outside, frozen. Well, good thing you made that roaring fire earlier this morning (FYI, time to add another log). Suit up (Snow pants, boots, snow jacket, long undies, hat and gloves). Go outside. Grab the genie. Place it by the fire for a few hours.
  6. At this point, nearing 11am, you realize that there are only a few more hours of good daylight and that your woodpile is getting low. So, you chop wood, stack wood, bring wood inside to keep the fire raging to warm up the water that (thankfully) still remains in the large pot on the stove (this is where the laundry magic will be happening).
  7. O.K, now it’s noon. Time for that walk. You have to chase the sun here and get out while it’s out or before you know it, the day clouds over and your direct line to vitamin D is done. So, out you go. Suit up again, find the pup and head to the river and hey, two birds one stone, call your mama. During the call, your phone will die from cold but at least you’ll hear her voice and at least you’ll be here: thumb_IMG_4603_1024
  8. You return to a warm-ish generator and to a starving tummy (you also need to do an outfit change because walking through snow is apparently more of a workout than you thought, Sweaty Betty). Anyone who knows me knows that eating is one of my top priorities in life but somehow, it’s 2pm and no stomachs have been filled. Rectify this with a quick fried egg and…you’re off to fill the water!
  9. Not so fast. The generator is warm enough but it’s out of gas. Suit back up. Walk the genie down the ROD (Ramp of Doom). Go to the barrel. Pump gas. Take the gas to the genie and fill it. Overfill it (my new perfume these days). Alright! Fire up that genie (eventually) and you’re off! thumb_DSC_0216_1024
  10. Run inside, grab the buckets, connect the well, fill the buckets. Run the buckets one by one up the ROD (I’m not quite strong enough for the double duty yet). Fill up the tub under the sink (to which is connected a pump that gives us a running sink, as long as it’ full). This takes both buckets. Run back outside. Fill up the buckets. Repeat until everything is full. The kettle. The shower bucket. Water bottles and water on the stove (try not to spill and nearly put out the fireplace like last time) . Run outside, turn off the well. Plug the house into the genie. You’ve got power, heat and water. Booyah!
  11. Change again (getting water got you watered). It’s 4pm. While you wait for the added water to heat on the stove you start on dinner.
  12. It’s 5pm and the water is warm enough. You wash socks and skivvies and hang them to dry when there’s a whistle outside and a friend pops in…to a panty party:thumb_DSC_0515_1024So much for that second load and hello to a welcome break. Dinner, dishes and adieus later and it’s time to go fetch more firewood to stoke the fire for the night…or maybe until that gold star midnight pee run. And hey, maybe you can get a few pages into your book before you settle in for an eight hour nap.
  13. Nighty-night. Don’t let the chore-bugs bite. thumb_DSC_0367_1024

 

I never would have thought my days would be decided by weather and water but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It cracks me up, keeps me on my toes and humbles me.

Thank you Alaska.