love

3 Things to Expect When You’re Trying or Expecting

This summer, exactly one month before I got pregnant, I had a conversation with a girlfriend I’ve known for forever. There’s nothing quite like an old friend, is there? Not just because they are a constant, despite how frequently or infrequently your conversations might be but also, maybe most importantly, because they are there to remind you of who you’ve been and who you are deep down. While I’m glad to have lost touch with the party girl this friend knew me to have been, the one who was ready on any given Monday through Sunday to shut down our local bar, our conversation this summer brought me back to a me I had forgotten about.

Jack & Tony's Whiskey Bar
Love you, E.

As we talked about our lives that day, she reminded me of the Julia I once was: confident as all hell that I would be a mother of as many kids as I wanted. I had forgotten that my stock answer back in my 20’s to the question “Do you want kids” was always “Kids? Hell, I want a whole soccer team!”. 15 years and one miscarraige plus a year of “trying” afterwards, after watching countless friends “breeze” through (no, I know it still wasn’t easy) getting pregnant and countless others struggle deeply, that level of abundance we desperately waning. But hearing that reminder struck me. I texted her afterwards:

“Man…hearing you talk about how I always used to say I wanted a soccer team…that did something for me. I needed to hear from that youthful (albeit ignorant) Julia who was so damn confident. I’ve been stuck in a bit of scarcity thinking (‘Please just let us have one! Please!’) and that feeling of abundance, of openness is gone but today, I saw it again. Thank you. I love you.”

What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #1: You Never Know Who’ll You’l Be

Whether pregnant or trying, you just never know. 20 something Julia would have told me not to worry, that I was destined to be a mother. 34 year old Julia felt each month’s passing, each grey hair popping up as a sign that maybe I wasn’t destined to be anything. I had watched friends go through similar situations to ours, joy, heartbreak, trying again and from the outside, it looked so simple. I just knew it would all work out for them but translating that optimism to us wasn’t as easy. Imagine wanting something so incredibly badly for your entire life, having it, losing it and starting back from square one again, never to know where you’ll end this time around. Like I said before, it’s a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Ragle Ranch Park
Sunrise, sunset. Start again tomorrow.

The first time I was pregnant, I knew exactly who I would be. I had been planning for her for decades and that optimism (though tainted by not getting pregnant on our very first try) was there. I’d eat perfectly, exercise every single day and power through any feelings of nausea of hormonal rage. I’d be the perfect pregnant woman. Reality looked a little different, a little more like sleeping fitfully for 3 hours a night and waking up at 3 am to eat 7 packets of fruit snacks while manically organzing our medical supplies. A little more like feeling so nauseaous that the idea of exercise was laughable and just the idea of something sweet broke a tears dam I’d apparently built inside of me. I was exactly as I’d planned: perfectly pregnant.

This time around, I gave up my idea of perfection and just went for good enough. I ate what I could stomach which ranged from fruit to…fruit and carbs. Bread on bread with a side of bread? Yes please. My pants were tight within a week. The only time I felt a semblance of the nausea giving up was when I was eating so, I was often eating. Still, I was lucky enough to be sleeping like a damn rock for 8+ hours a night and felt OK enough to do a little exercise every day. Until we hit the road and all semblance of routine flew out the window of our tightly packed car. Donuts for breakfast? Yep.

I ate a sandwich
The healthiest it got. Cheese sandwich.

Looking back now, yes, I wish I would have been “better”. Less sugar, more vegetables but when I put myself back in that place, the idea of a salad made me want to vomit so I have to be proud of any vegetable I got down, even if it was in pickle form. You never know who you’ll be once you get to whatever stage you’ve anticipated. I thought I’d be cool while “trying”. I was not. I thought I’d be “perfect” while pregnant. I was not. I was me, both times, and always. So, do your damndest not to judge others or yourself. We are all just doing our best.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #2: There Will Always Be a Next Thing to Worry About

Like I said, I was anything but cool once we started trying. I’ve never been someone who can just sort of care. I’m all the way in, once I’m in and like a dog circling it’s bed for the perfect spot to snooze, it took me a moment to decide if I was truly ready for this thing I’d been wanting all my life. I am an overthinker extraordinnaire but, once we really sat down and made sure we were sure, I was ready to become a mother right then and there. It doesn’t quite happen like that. Enter: worry. Am I fertile? Is he fertile (something that took me WAY too long to ask. I immediately assigned blame to my reproductive prowess, or lack thereof. In the end, everything was assumedly fine on both ends BUT I encourage you to equally investigate both sides of the equation, should need be)? After becoming pregnant, the worry of fertility fell away and I felt completely at ease.

No, no, that’s not right.

I felt worried again. Was that twinge I felt OK? Was I working out too hard? How out of breath is too out of breath? When do I sleep on my side? What about the wine I drank before knowing I was pregnant? Did I ruin everyting??? Miscarrying fulfilled all those worst case scenario fears. It checked all the terror boxes.

This time around, for reasons I can’t explain, I did feel an incredible, overarching calm come over me once I knew I was pregnant. I knew deep down that everything was OK. When we went for genetic testing, I knew it was OK. When we went for our anatomy scan, I knew we were OK but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been completely terrified many times in between (and during each of those experiences).

Columbia Memorial Hospital
Like when I was in the hospital, all alone, round two

In fact, about 1 week to the day before our next appointment (they are scheduled one month apart right now) I start to panic. Each appointment seems to bring us up to a milestone. First it was the first time we saw the heartbeat. Next it was hearing the heartbeat. Next it was entering the second trimester. Then it was the first kicks, felt on Christmas morning. Next it was seeing the baby in 3D (terrifying. The babe resembled more of a melted baby crayon since they were partying so hard in there). Next it will be entering the third trimester in the coming month.

With every milestone, I tell The Chief “This makes me feel better now” and with every milestone, he knows it’s only a certain amount of time before it wears off and I need another for comfort. The baby kicking has been utter magic. The baby not kicking as often lead me to tears, tears comforted by our midwife who reassured me the baby has plenty of room to head towards my back where it’s harder to feel the kicks for a while. Still, the worry, it’s constant and it never goes away (or so I’m told). Not when the baby is born. Not when the baby sleeps through the night or becomes a toddler and walks on their own or becomes a teen and drives away for the first time. If nothing else, this process has taught me that I am officially in control of…nothing. I think I feel the nausea returning.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #2: Nothing Stays the Same

Before miscarrying, my cycles were a little wonky but overall, consistent enough. After miscarrying, they were utter insanity. Nothing stays the same. Once we conceived this time, my love affair with strawberries was constant for one month. Daily baskets of berries were my bounty of choice. I haven’t had one in months. The day my pants first felt snug, I felt enormous.

First trimester baby bump
Huuuuuuuuge. Ha!

Now I look back at those pictures and laugh a big big belly laugh (which, I’m sure in a few months, I’ll think is laughably tiny again).

Second trimester belly

Yesterday my belly button looked like it was yelling a wide open-mouthed yell. Today, it’s starting to stick out its tongue as my inny, overnight is becoming an outtie. In month one, I couldn’t recall what a microwave was called (I called it The Thing That Makes Things Hot. Thank goodness my husband and I rule at Charades). I’d be mid-sentence, mid-meeting at work and suddenly pull all blanks, watching my co-workers stare at me from their screens. Now, my brain works pretty well, or perhaps I’ve adapted. Either way, nothing lasts forever. The fear, the peace, the certainty, the uncertainty, the pain, the calm, the worry, the wonder. None of it is constant, none of it is always or never. It simply is.

Wherever you are on whichever journey towards whatever your goal may be, know this: you’ve got this. You do. All of these lessons, they’ve been hammered into me by way of this specific journey, but they radiate out into all veins of our lives.

You never know, so don’t judge yourself or others.
Worry is a part of life. You can let it rule you or you can let it be.
Everything changes, good bad and in between.

Be kind to yourself along the way, it makes the path a lot easier to walk.

With love,

From California

Goodnight Moon
Goodnight Moon

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part III

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

The truth?

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

Yes’m.

(more…)

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part I

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

How?
A lot of distraction and a little technology.

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

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto was unimpressed

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

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

PCR tests Anchorage
Spotted from the car!

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

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

Plantsitting
Buh bye babies!

Until there wasn’t.

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

Wrong again.

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

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

Gardening in Alaska
Nailed it!

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

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

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

Alaskan Malamute
Cukes

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

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

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

US Canada Border
Fingers crossed

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

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

So it was.

Delta Junction, AK
The outlook felt bleak

How did it go?

Tune in next time to find out.

See you in two weeks.

With love,

From Alaska

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

A Wetting Rain, A Wedding Glow

I love a good wedding.

Free cake, food and champagne aside, I love weddings because they make me feel. They give me “All the feels” as the kids says. They bring out the optimist in me and dang if she hasn’t been a little bit dormant lately. After an intense weekend saying goodbye to a dear friend, facing an ending, it was beautiful to find ourselves swinging full circle back into a new beginning. With the dark, comes the light and last weekend, when our dear friends tied the knot, a little extra light returned to this valley.

The wedding was a three-day-long affair and, in true Alaskan style, a total community effort. From the food being prepared by a dear friend (who also happens to be stellar chef), to the gathering of every tent, table, and chair to be found, to the harvesting of gardens far and wide, everyone had a hand in helping. And after having so many hands involved in our wedding, it felt good to get mine dirty.

Women of Alaska
Decoration crew in the rain. True troopers.

Same penis forever cake
Same. Penis. Forever. Bachelorette party cake.

Weddings around here truly are an all-hands-on-deck event and this one was no different. I love watching an idea come to life. One that’s sparked in first glances and grown in first winters together. An idea that became a reality shared and grew to live in the lives of others. An idea that turned into calls and emails and the blending of friends and family until everyone is together and the idea takes on a life of its own. From decorating the bachelorette party to building out the bride’s bouquet, every hand aimed to hold them up, every step was one we all took in tandem towards their marriage.

Cabbage boutonnière, anyone?


On the big day, a Friday the 13th proceeded by a week of rain, the sun came out. Superstitions, stand down. We spent the morning decorating, watching the clouds break and the sun peak through to light the way for a gorgeous backyard ceremony.

Gardening in Alaska
That lawn tho!

Getting married in Alaska
The beautiful bride and groom and family

True to form, Alaska weather had to make a bit of an entrance. As their first dance came to a close, the sky shed its tears. Cake(!) and dancing followed the rainstorm, and the bride and groom slipped away into the night and into the close of their first day of marriage.

On day three of marriage, they parted ways. The groom and The Chief and their friends (now my friends too) of over 20 years and I all headed into the backcountry while the bride enjoyed a trip with family in their last days in Alaska.

Wrangell Mountain Air, Alaska
Up, up and away!

That’s one reason I love this couple. They are always surprising me. Just when I think I know what they’ll do next, they do something I’d never considered. Don’t worry, they have honeymoons aplenty planned but for those three days, their first honeymoons were with the roots that built them and made them who they would become when they found one another.


Our party spent our days hiking between glaciers, trundling boulders, snacking on blueberries and following tracks.

Backpacking in Alaska
Day one sunset


We found a six-toed bear print which not a single person took a picture of so you’ll just have to believe me, grizzlies aplenty, and wolverine prints. One member of our party was even lucky enough to see the elusive beast in person.

Life in Alaska
My furry beast, finally in person, not at work.

We spent the days in sun until it came time to fly back and the skies darkened with rain. Still, somehow all 8 of us, plus 3 dogs, made it out of the backcountry and back to home sweet home.

Fan Glacier, Alaska
Last sunrise out back(country).
Alaskan Malamute puppy
Home again, home again. With a little help from Dad. Our Leto prince.


As we all return to our the day to day, the remnants of the wedding trickle on by. The cake was finally finished, shared with the town, the flowers set to vases and the bouquet hung to dry. Their arbor beckons a sweet “hello” to any passerby who glances her way and last night the bride and I shared a bottle of wedding wine while listening to the playlist her brother made for the event.

The glow of the day continues to shed its light.

Oh how I love weddings.

Cheers to you two,

Cheers to you.

With love,

from Alaska

Wrangell St. Elias National Park
Buh-bye backcountry!


P.S. I want to know…what do you want to read about? Please feel free to leave a comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Heading Back from Hope

This Saturday morning, as I sat down to my ritual of tea and journaling, I was prompted with the question: What are you grateful for?

Today, I’m grateful to have a time and a place to grieve.

If you’re ready to turn the page now and head over to some kitten cuteness or lighthearted love, I get it. This post is two years in the making and still I cringe to write it because it makes it real. Know, there will be moments of levity here but grief, as we all know isn’t rainbows and kittens. Collectively, we’ve done a lot of grieving lately. The world has been a bit of a shitstorm (understatement) and if you’ve felt a bit at sea, you’re not alone. We’ve all been doggy paddling our way to shore. This weekend, I find myself finally arriving at one of many shores, one I’ve avoided: saying goodbye.

Nearly two years ago now, The Chief and I sat nestled in our cozy honeymoon cabin in Hope, Alaska. We were wrapped in a blanket of love and joy for what was to come. After a brutal few years, our wedding was like a golden ticket. We felt so held, so loved, and for the first time, truly the first time in years so…optimistic. That day, as we hiked about, we were giddy with hope. It felt as if a spell had been broken, we’d been released from our pain and engulfed in love long enough to see the other side and it was beautiful. We had returned to one another from our own solitary dens of despair. Everything was going to be OK.

Hope, Alaska

As we returned to the cabin, I remembered I’d seen my phone collecting messages throughout the day and finally decided to check them. There was a picture of an altar, candles lit. I scanned down to the text and saw the words “We heard about your friend’s passing.”

No, that can’t be right.
Does she mean my Godmother?
My Grandmother?
The Chief’s Mom?
Dad?
Grandma?
Grandpa?

She was wrong, I was certain but I called my girlfriend just in case.

She was right.

Jason was gone.

Jason Elser was the first man I met on our first foray into this town’s “nightlife”. He rode up on his 4-wheeler, dirty from head to Chacos, wearing a (previously) white shirt. He slowed to a stop as he saw us approaching and welcomed me to town with a grin saying something along the lines of “It’s summertime, gorgeous, we’ve been waiting for you all winter long.” He was every trope, every caricature I’d heard of Alaskan men and then some. A ball of contradictions. Hard and soft, all at once. Chivalrous and unintentionally misogynistic (though willing to be corrected or at a minimum, debated). Hardworking and hard playing. A joy and a beast, all wrapped up in the best intentions. He was the first person who would show up if you needed help, sometimes even before you knew you needed it and he offered his love without expectation or need for reciprocation.

Recycling in Alaska
“Julia, can I take some trash off your hands?”. That aww shucks posture.

One of my favorite stories about him spans my first summer. Nearly every morning that summer, he would call The Chief to check-in, often with a moral conundrum but the best was The Squirrel. Apparently, a squirrel had taken a liking to Jason’s yard and its early morning chitter-chatter was driving him insane. Lucky for us, Jason decided to call every morning to ask the same question: Is it OK to shoot the squirrel yet? And every morning they would debate it. I loved groggily listening, in and out of sleep, to their arguments back and forth. The Cheif, at first miffed by again being awoken, would suddenly be smiling as they debated.

He was like that: at one moment a thorn in your side, the next helping you pull it out. He effortlessly created tension and somehow equally smoothed it. He was push and pull all in one, all in love. I loved those mornings, hearing him, open and childlike. I loved how much Jason wanted to hear an opinion he didn’t share. He was endlessly curious about what others thought and how they lived and why. And while I’m pretty sure at least one squirrel met its end before he called The Chief, he made a promise that not a single other would die at his hands after they first spoke. His confidence in The Chief gave me confidence in our relationship, a budding bloom Jason nurtured every time he saw us with words of enthusiasm, pure joy for our finding one another. He shared in the joy of his friends and family, every success as if it were his own because to him, it was.

Best truck for Alaska
Our first road trip together. 10 miles long until we broke down.

Losing our friend, I lost hope again. Our world got very dark, very lonely, even in one another’s company. Heading back from Hope, my husband was once again far away. Our hands were no longer intertwined and our hearts became hardened, robbed of the elasticity our wedding had instilled. We returned to a town turned somber, a breakneck 180 from the elated state we’d all been in when we left. From a peak to a valley, in our little valley.

Kennicott River, Alaska

As a town, we grieved. We gathered that Fall and that Winter in his honor but something was missing. This weekend, nearly two years after his passing, we finally realized what it was: Jason.

Alaskan Dog
A classic Esler move. Asleep at the fire. Jason and Dog.

This weekend, we gathered twice more. Once to sing and howl our heartbreak to him, the other to bid him farewell. His beautiful family spread his ashes in the place that had been such a part of him. Now he was a part of it.

What can we take away from someone being taken away? For me, for Jason, it’s a reminder to step outside of oneself. To look around and fill a need, a want, a space someone needs help filling, even before they know they need help. It’s to spread a little more joy, to open your heart and to share the success of others. For me, it’s to dream a little bigger and break a few things along the way.

As I wrote this, there were a million ways to tell it. A million stories of you being all the way you, Esler. I looked back through photos, back through the years, through the days. I see so much of you, even when you weren’t in the photo itself. I see you in the shot I took of softball one day, in benches at the softball field and the 5-gallon garden buckets you left for anyone to take. I see you in the smiles on our faces as we held moose ribs up to our faces, the moose you shot and shared, always. I see you in the logs I stacked using the trailer you offered. I see you in the crack in my tooth from the first tree I cut down and the pride in your eyes as you made me tell you every detail. I see you stomping your feet to the music. I see you where you aren’t because you’ve always been here, a staple I took for granted. Your eye-roll-inducing antics, your smile, your ideas, your undying drive for building our community, your support of the young’ns.

We aren’t the same without you but I know where you are is better because of you. And although we aren’t the same, you brought us back together again this weekend. After a year of isolation, a year of dischord, you helped us come back to this family, your wild Alaskan family’s version of harmony that howls so sweetly. In your absence, you still brought us together. You helped us head back to hope.

I hope for you, Jason, wherever you are, that they welcomed you with a bear hug as big as you gave and said “Welcome home, gorgeous. We’ve been waiting for you all Winter long”.

With love,

from Betsy’s girl from California

Kuskulana Bridge

Building Off Grid in Alaska: The Driveway Edition

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

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

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


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

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

Remodel
Ding ding ding!


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

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

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

Love in Alaska
First picture on the property


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

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

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

Mccarthy, AK

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


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

And another date.

And another date.

And another.

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

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

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

Building Alaska
Holy guacamole


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

Yes, please.

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

Building in Alaska
Moonlit love


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

It was glorious.



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

Winter in Alaska


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

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

Alaska


So, what’s next?

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

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

What a difference a year makes.

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

With love,

from Alaska

Alaskan Malamute
And lit up Leto


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

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

The Weather Gambler

I’ve never been much of a gambler. Despite going to Las Vegas a handful of times, the most I’ve ever lost was $100 and it was $100 a friend had given me to encourage me to “Get on out there!”. Get on out there I did for about 1 solid hour of Juju gambling time and then…meh. It’s just not me.

Recently, we had the chance to gamble twice. You see, the weather a month ago had been absolutely gorgeous. Bluebird skies. Not a cloud in sight. Warm, sunny days.

Summer in Alaska

So, aiming to finally get “out” before the Fall closed in, we had scheduled a backcountry trip (where you fly in an airplane into even more remote Alaska). We met to match schedules with the flight company, deciding each to take one day off from work, and lo and behold, we found the perfect weekend. It was settled.

Then, The Chief’s boss switched around his work schedule. Suddenly, if we took the trip he would have missed one normal day of work AND one day of overtime instead of just one regular day. Being that his work season is coming to a close, the squirreling of dollars has begun and we couldn’t really swing it. Plus, one of the people who had given us the trip was visiting said weekend and we would have missed getting in some quality time with her.

Best friends
Ain’t she cute? Wine bottle birthday cake.


So, novice gamblers that we are, we risked it: Gamble #1: Rescheduling. We scheduled for the last weekend the flight company was open: last weekend. Labor Day Weekend, which also happened to be our one-year anniversary. The visiting girlfriend who had given us the flight and had worked at the flight company had worried that it might be too cold or that we would get stuck in the backcountry. “Go! Dont’ worry, we will see one another soon! I don’t want you to get stuck or not go!” she cautioned.

Stuck?

Yup.

Mid-Summer, it’s actually pretty fun to fly out to places that have difficult landing strips or are prone to weather delays and experience the maybe we will, maybe we won’t adventure of getting stuck in the backcountry. I mean, who doesn’t want more time in the mountains, right? As the Fall closes in, the chances of weather delays and rough landings increases and…this was the last weekend the flight service was operating. So, if they couldn’t pick us up, we’d have to Winter over in the mountains.

Just kidding! But…it would delay their closing if their ability to pick us up was delayed.

Still, the weather had been beautiful and if it were anything near how the weather had been last year at our wedding, we would be totally fine. So, we scheduled it. Labor Day weekend, goodbye! To the backcountry we go!

Fall in Alaska
Blue skied beauty

Right?

Enter: Gamble #2: Rescheduling…Again

As we cruised through the following weekend, post reschedule, the weekend we would have been in the backcountry originally, the weather showed up in style. It was GORGEOUS. T-shirt weather mixed with the leaves turning made for an epic precursor to Fall. Everyone reveled in the good luck we were having. What weather!

The Monday after that weekend everything changed.

Fall in Alaska
Cold and dreary but…beautiful

We awoke to Fall. The sky was overcast and cold, and the temperature was in the 20’s. As Leto and I took our morning constitutional, we looked into the mountains.

McCarthy, Alaska
Weeks later, still snow

Snow.

A lot of snow.

Oh.

The gloomy week continued and as the trip grew nearer, we had a gamble to make: we could go into the backcountry and risk getting stuck or we could cancel our trip until next year.

Cancelling Pros:
1. Next year, we could go earlier in the summer with (potentially) warmer weather
2. We could harvest our garden which, given the current weather conditions, was unlikely to last through the weekend and greet us upon our return
3. We wouldn’t risk missing extra work (more than we could really budget for)
4. We essentially live in the backcountry, so even without a plane, we could get out into the wilderness on our own. This, however, is more likely in Winter though, which means temperatures far colder than Fall weather. But…I’d done it before!

Cancelling Cons:
1. Not being in the backcountry
2. Waiting an entire year to get into a plane and go in the backcountry
3. Feeling like we “never do anything”
4. Staying home and not getting that backcountry release one can only feel when phones are off and all is quiet

Come Wednesday of the week we were finally set to depart, the forecast gave us nothing. It was dark and cold and the predictions were about 50/50 cold with sun to colder with snow. After a dinner sit down we decided to call it: The backcountry would have to wait until next year. Having worked on our garden since March, and trying to stay true to our aim to live better off the land, we would have been devastated to come home to a spoiled crop. And, although there’s nothing quite like the backcountry, we did have one trick up our sleeve:

Long Lake

You see, this Spring we did something crazy. We bought 21 acres of raw land, 3 seasons sight unseen.

Long Lake, Alaska
Thanks for leading the way!

What does that mean? The Chief and I trudged about the property for a month in the heart of Winter. Snowshoeing in hip deep snow to create trails to discover the property lines of the different lots and choose which would be ours.

Alaskan couple
The day we found our lots

We ended up with two and come this Spring, we saw them for the first time in Spring. Come this Summer, we saw them for the first time in Summer. Come this past weekend, we finally saw our property in Fall. Finally, all four seasons, sight quite seen.

The property sits across The Road from Long Lake, a place that has always held a special place in my heart since I arrived. It was, in fact, the first place I ever stayed in our area and it had me from my first mosquito fleeing boat ride across it. I never dreamed we’d actually be able to live there but The Chief and I had always hoped, deep down, that someday it might work out and then…it did.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto, hanging off the cliff-edge at the back of the property. Chitina River below


So, no, we didn’t go into the backcountry last weekend. On Wednesday we decided to cancel and guess what?! Come Thursday morning, the sun was shining bright as ever, the birds were singing and though crisp, the day was “warm”. The night and day shift in weather continued into the weekend and trust me, I doubted my gambling abilities, even going so far as to try to ruin the first few hours of our first day off together by drowning in self-doubt. Still, every time I looked up to the mountains, with its steady accumulation of snow, and down to our garden that lasted just until Saturday morning, when we harvested the last bits, I knew we had made the right choice.

Gardening in Alaska
Rainbow carrots!

To gather some of the backcountry vibe we were so desperately in need of, we turned off our phones for the weekend for the first time in months (hence the lack of photos). We spent the weekend pickling the vegetables from our garden. Carrots and zucchini and cucumbers found their way into jars and basil was hung to dry and set aside with carrot tops for pesto. The tomato plants with their fruit still green, were cut down and brought into the house to ripen on the vine and the last wild Alaskan medicinal herbs that grace our property found their way into tinctures and oils and onto drying racks.

Calendula oil
Calendula oil

It was a tidying up, a recommitment to our base values.

Pickling
Pickles, baby!

Then, it was adventure time. First, a hike out to The Toe of the glacier and then, a night at the property.

Toe of the Glacier, Alaska
Leto at The Toe a few weeks before, chasing a duck in the glacial lake

Being on the property felt magical. The Chief cut down the first trees ever, we started working on our trail and we had our first fire. We spent the night under the stars (it’s Fall, y’all and stars are back!), listening to howling coyotes and hooting owls. By dawn, it had started to rain and we threw on the tent fly, scooped up our Leto and cuddled into our family nest, cozy, safe and sound.

The next day, our one year wedding anniversary, we packed up and headed homeward. We spent the day unpacking and tidying, reading and napping. Then, as the night closed in, we 4-wheelered down to our somehow still standing wedding arch and toasted to a wonderful year together.

Wedding arch
The arch. Thank you, again MT

Our first year of marriage. As we had done during our wedding ceremony, we made vows to one another and promises born from the lessons we’d learned in the year past. Then, as we had done after our wedding ceremony, we walked down to the river, found a rock along the way and hollered our wishes as we threw the rocks in to the icy waters below.

As I tossed in my rock, I looked up to the snow-covered mountains and felt that, for once in my life, I’d made the right gamble. The biggest gamble of them all. I’d unknowingly gambled on Alaska and in it, I found the love I had never dared to dream of. Just like the weather, there have been moments to test me, to make me question myself but always I come back to here, back to you. With all of my heart, thank you to Alaska and to The Chief for gambling on me and helping me to see I’m right where I need to be.

Wedding in Alaska
Still my favorite photo ever


With love,

from Alaska

Fall in McCarthy, AK



P.S. What has been your favorite gamble?

Lavaterra flowers

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’ll admit it, I’m hell-bent on patterns.

“Patterns?” You ask? Yes, dear friend. Patterns. And no, not the plaid and houndstooth of the world. No, no, no. Patterns! You know, the type of patterns that aren’t actually patterns at all but rather one time happenings we aim to replicate into eternity!

Mustard greens
Hello, mustard leaf hearts.

Those “patterns”

For example, The Chief and I have a really nice evening. We happen to have meatloaf for dinner. It happens to be Monday and suddenly…poof! Meatloaf Mondays are born. That kind of “this was good, may it always be so” type of pattern. I’m always trying to sell The Chief unsolicited tickets to my patterned events: Sunday Strolls. Take Out Tuesdays. Sweep Up Saturdays. Chop Wood Wednesdays. It seems I’m a huge fan of “always” and a downright devotee to alliteration.

Meatloaf Mondays
A tradition begins…2018

And perhaps that’s OK, no? A little bit of organization never hurt anyone, right Marie Kondo?

Marie Kondo organizing
Organizing a tiny house is best down out of doors but…Winter was coming.

But…

In my search for continuity, I seem to “find” patterns everywhere, even where they don’t exist.

So last year, when I had a downright banner year in the garden, I assumed (read: decided) that was how the garden would go from there on out. Perfectly.

All the warning signs that I was experiencing pattern blindness were there. Some of the best gardeners I know had quite difficult years last year due to pests or pole vaulting moose or the reason scariest of them all: the unknown. Eek! Still, despite seeing the ebb and the flow in even the best gardeners, this emerging seedling of a green thumb looked at my beautiful brassica bounty and assumed it would always be so.

Giant cabbages Alaska
Cabbage bounty, 2019


Clearly, I’m not winning any Best at Living in the Here and Now awards.

As the season came to an end and I did my best to put up what I’d grown and as the snow came, I tucked in the garden until next year.

This year.

The year that should have been just as good as last year. No, better!

Right?

Right?!

Gardening in Alaska 2019
August 21st, 2019. Jungle greens.



I get attached to “patterns” even when they’ve yet to begin, even when their outcome is unlikely.

Yet sometimes patterns pan out, like seeing the same first flower every year, year after year, once the snow starts to melt:

Anenome flower, Alaska
2019
Anenome bloom, spring in Alaska
2020. Same nail polish too, since 2008. Creature of habit, much?


I “see” a pattern and decide it’s a downright guarantee and while that’s totes adorbs and all, it turns out that even though I can apply mandatory patterns regarding food consumption or chores to myself, applying those patterns to others doesn’t go so hot. Especially when that other is Mother Earth. Mama don’t play that game.

Or does she?

If you’re still wondering, I have photographic proof that she, in fact, does not.

Gardening in Alaska 2020
August 21st, 2020


My cabbages that grew big as beach balls last year seemed not to have gotten their return tickets to 2020. This year’s cabbages have made no suggestion that they might decide to head up, lounging instead as small to medium leaves acting as shields for more delicate crops in our rainy year. In fact, the largest cabbage I have in my garden to date is one I threw in the compost last year that somehow overwintered and came back to life as a triplet. I kid you not.

Cabbage triplets
Hello Alaska State Fair! Sign this big beauty up for the competition!

Cabbage gardening Alaska
…just kidding! Perspective is everything, eh?

So, I stand corrected: one cabbage got a return ticket this year and petite as she is, she’s putting all her leggy, leafy brethren to shame.

Huge cabbages, Alaska
2020. A lot more cabbage, but one less ring.

So, clearly, this year, the year to beat the banner year has been a bit of a dud in some ways. Certainly, it started out with a thud. I started my seeds early, earlier than I ever had in order to get a jump on things. The world was (is?) falling apart (yet never fear, here are some tips to wait out the apocalypse) as we know it and food shortages seemed to loom in our future. Being a “mere” 8 hours from the nearest large grocery store, I hopped to it. I would provide for our family for the summer and the following months to come.

My seeds had another idea. Since people were running about all Henny Penny and seeds were bought up faster than you can say “The sky is falling!”, I recycled them from the year before. Normally, a girlfriend and I share an annual seed order because we are thrifty like that but this year, the seed stores were low and shipping times were prohibitive so we opted to simply reuse last year’s pups. Big mistake?

Maybe.

Gardening starts
1 for 6 in the first row, 2 for 3 in the second, 0 for 3 in the third. Not the best stats.


Or maybe the problem was that the soil was bunk or the trays had a funk or maybe 2020 got wind of our plans and decided to throw her doomsday fancy footwork into the show. Either way, germination wasn’t exactly my strong suit this year. I may not be a pro but I’ve been consistently able to get the finicky Delphinium to germinate so to not be able to pop up a nasturtium, welcome some kale or greet a snap pea? That was weird.

My girlfriend experienced similarly lackluster results with flowers and veggies that were equally old hat to her. A few weeks later, I went for another round, and luckily some of those who hadn’t thrived earlier popped into play. I had the basics and the garden would go on.

The spring sunshine, however, would not. We’ve had the rainiest, coldest summer I’ve ever known anywhere. Like Hawaii, we’ve had afternoon showers almost daily. Unlike Hawaii, we didn’t experience much in terms of t-shirt weather until July, and now, come August, we are back to winter layers that never even had the chance to get put into storage. So, needless to say, the slow start of the seedlings never found a helping hand in the weather and certain things show it.

Failed gardening starts
Cauliflower without a crown.


While others thrive.

Lavaterra
The first bloom of the year: Lavaterra from seed.


Though I may not be rich in sauerkraut from cabbages this winter, we will certainly have squash goodness galore. While my arugula itch never got scratched this summer, beautiful heads of red, butter and romaine lettuce led the charge into the salad bowl. Despite not a single snap pea coming to fruition, the climbing fence The Chief fashioned for me holds a plethora of sweet peas whose scent transports me every time I breathe it in. And further developments like the new stacking boxes he fashioned promise potatoes aplenty.

Pea and bean trellis
Sweet pea and snake bean city
Sweet peas
The sweetness
Potato boxes
Stackin’ taters 3 feet high now

And while doubles were the wildest combo I’d ever seen my zucchini flowers produce, I was lucky enough to see triplets this year!

Conjoined triplet zucchini flowers
We got trips!

So, how does my garden grow?
Differently.
Beautifully.
In a way all its own.

Greenhouse Alaska
Welcome to the jungle. We’ve got squash and games.


Patterns, while consistent and trustworthy, leave little room for the here and now. I’m certainly not keen to give up some of them (Meatloaf Mondays forever. If you haven’t had meatloaf since the 80’s, I implore you to give it a revamp and another try. Thank me later) but I think, I hope I can make a little more room for the abstract to come and share its wisdom as well. Despite learning the lesson that everything changes (even your face time and time again (though hopefully not ever again in that manner ever), it’s still a hard one for me to accept. Yet, when I take a step back to truly see what change reveals, it turns out the picture is uniquely beautiful, every time.

Livingstone Daisy
Daisy Livingstone, I presume? How cool are those leaves?!

It may not have been a replication of last year but this year’s garden was drop-dead gorgeous and super productive in so many other ways. The sun didn’t shine into the 80’s every day like it did last year but perhaps we were better off without the wildness a relentless midnight glow can bring. I didn’t buy a single flower this year, as I always have in the past and hoped my few starts would brighten up the place. It’s been the best flower year yet.

Nemesia
Nemesia from seed. Happiness embodied.

The garden didn’t produce in the same way as last year but it did in so many other ways and because the garden took longer to take off, I’ve found myself foraging more in the bounty that surrounds us. Picking fireweed blossoms and wild raspberries, mint, chamomile, yarrow, and more in our yard. Discovering the joy of Orange Delicious mushrooms, thanks to the teachings of a friend.

Orange delicious polenta bake
Zucchini & Orange Delicious baked polenta

Moving away from the old made room for discovering the new, perfectly imperfect as it is.

A year’s passed and life has sure has changed. Last year I was up to my eyeballs in cabbage and greens. This year I find myself a zucchini queen. Last year I was prepping for a wedding, this year, an anniversary. Imagine that. Change. Despite the feelings of safety a pattern might elicit, trying to force it to stay finds us ripping at the seams. So, I’ll let go…

a little.

With love,

from Alaska

Calendula Alaska
Even though only one Calendula seed came to be, she certainly made up for the others that didn’t! Wild child in orange.


P.S. How does your garden grow?

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P.P.S



I’m White. Now What?

I’m white.

Now what?

I am not an expert on Black history. I am not an expert on our present day. I can educate myself and I am learning but I have not, nor will I ever know what it’s like to live as any Black person, past or present. Because of this, I have written and rewritten this post in my head hundreds of times over the past months. I have started and stopped, afraid to misstep, afraid to say the wrong thing.

That was my first mistake.

In writing this, I have gone through countless iterations, down (new to me) rabbit holes researching things I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and into deep self-questioning and still, it won’t be perfect. I am not here to brag to you about how aware I am but rather to illuminate how asleep at the wheel I’ve been and to implore us both to wake up. This post won’t be the ultimate representation of the situation (many white people have finally realized) we are in because this situation is centuries old, endlessly nuanced and unbelievably ingrained  in our society. This post will, however, aim to illuminate our harsh reality and how white people can do the inner work no one can do for them to address the past and the present. I may misstep. I have misstepped on this same path before and I appreciate those who have taken the time and energy to correct me. Still, my hope and my understanding is that being on the path is better than watching from the sidelines as I have been.

I don’t have all the answers but I know silence isn’t one of them.

So, let’s start with underwear, obviously:

“OK ladies, where are the best places to buy cute but comfortable underwear online? Go!”

This was a text I sent out to some girlfriends a few months back and the response? Overwhelmingly Aerie. Aerie, a child brand of parent company American Eagle, was one I’d heard of but never bothered to check out. I figured it would be the same stick-thin, whitewashed company I remembered from my youth.

I was wrong.

When I visited the site, I found myself among my people: women with curves, women with cellulite, women with stretch marks. None of them were hiding their “imperfections” or strategically posing to shield our eyes from their “flaws.” I saw myself represented in a way airbrushed media doesn’t often show, and it felt good. Yet, it wasn’t just me. Women of all shapes, sizes and skin colors graced the screen (though at my most recent visit, there were, unfortunately, more white faces than before on the main page). There were women with disabilities and women who had clearly had children and wore their tiger stripes proudly instead of covering them up (if you haven’t heard of Sara Shakeel and her amazing glamification of stretch marks, please check her out). It felt good to see a wider range of representation. Our bodies tell a story. It feels so validating to see your story shown, right?

The thing is, I’m white and if you are too, our story has always been shown (and often, glorified). While I may not have grown up seeing my particular body type represented, I have always seen my skin color represented. From government and other positions of power to media (everything from books, movies and magazines, down to the pamphlets you see in your doctor’s office) to toys and more, everywhere you look, there are white people. The default has been white and the thing is, if you’re white, you may not have even noticed. Everyone, regardless of sex or skin color, knows how horrible it feels to be misrepresented. Imagine not being represented at all.

Maybe you’re thinking “Yea, but how much damage could not being represented do?” Simply put: a lot (and we’ve known it for a long time). Seeing a singular positive depiction of what it means to be beautiful via whitewashed everything and a singular negative depiction of black skin (think only being cast to play the parts of enslaved people or criminals in movies, ads, etc.) whispers to us; it sneaks into our subconscious: white is better (and just to be explicitly clear: no, it’s not).

The Doll Tests from the 1940’s illustrated this as well. They illuminated the negative effects segregation had on African-American children’s self-esteem and their feelings toward their race and social status. When posed with a choice between dolls of different colors (at the time, there weren’t any Black dolls. A white doll had to be painted black), the children overwhelmingly chose the white dolls and assigned positive characteristics to them.

This test, performed by Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark was cited in the Brown vs. Board of Education Superior Court ruling which desegregated schools:

“To separate [African-American children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

And with that desegregation passed! Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

While this acknowledgement was a win against segregation, the NAACP LDF (Legal Defense and Education Fund), a legal organization fighting for racial justice, reported in this article that “Dr. Kenneth Clark was dismayed that the court failed to cite two other conclusions he had reached: that racism was an inherently American institution, and that school segregation inhibited the development of white children, too.”

The study has since been recreated and the results replicated. White and Black children more often ascribed negative terms such as “ugly” or “dumb” to the Black dolls versus the white dolls. While segregation is legally gone (although with redlining and racist policies, is it?), the impacts of devaluing darker skin remain. Social movements like the Black is Beautiful movement, which gained momentum in the 1960’s aimed to dispel the damaging narrative that black features were inherently ugly or bad (the societal rhetoric children were subconsciously bringing with them into the Doll Tests). Yet the sheer reality that such a movement ever had to originate shows just how much damage has been done and this is just one piece of the bigger picture.

One snowflake. One grain of sand.

Just one piece.

So, we’ve gotten this far in and all we’ve talked about is underwear? Well, no. We’ve talked about the deeply ingrained devaluation of darker skin. Why does this matter? One: because how we make people feel about themselves and how we feel about others should be based on who they are as a person, not ascribed to them based on negative, untrue preconceptions about their skin color. Two: because these preconceptions aren’t just painful, unjust and ugly, they are dangerous

This problem of racism is massive. We haven’t even talked about the lasting financial effects of slavery and racist policy (essentially, our system is based on racist beginnings bringing us to a racist present where white people are helped to succeed and Black people are not). Kimberly Latrice Jones does one of the best breakdowns of our history I’ve seen right here. We haven’t talked about redlining. We haven’t talked about the unequal  numbers of Black people incarcerated versus whites (here’s a quick fact sheet). We haven’t talked about the disproportionate brutality towards and killing of innocent people of color at the hands of officers of the law and white vigilantes. There’s innumerable ways racism has shown up and reared its hideous head in the world and it will continue to do so if we, as a society, let it.

So, what can you do?

Nothing, right? It’s too big. Too ingrained. Too powerful.

No. Sure, it would have been great if our ancestors never started this horror story or realized the wrong in their ways say, oh, 400 years ago, but they didn’t. We know that we know better. Now we have to be better. [Sidenote: If you are feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to do and learn to fight injustice, I get it. It’s a lot. Yet imagine being at the hands of that injustice for hundreds of years. Hundreds. If you are feeling sensitive, stop and feel that and then move forward. Remember (from Dear Ally): “As a first step, take the discomfort you are feeling about potentially being perceived as racist and use it to develop compassion for people who are experiencing racism itself.” Start wherever you need to in order to do the work within yourself. Encourage others to do so as well. Many hands make light work and we’ve got a mountain to move.]

Here are four things you can do right now to do your part:

Listen

Learn

Speak

Support

Listen: I’ve heard it said a million times: You were given two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately. The easiest way to break down preconceived notions of people and obliterate hatred is familiarity. It’s a lot harder to apply stereotypes to someone when you actually talk to them. That being said, be respectful of people’s space, time and emotional needs and be realistic about your relationships. Reaching out to acquaintances or coworkers about such a deep issue is inappropriate. Don’t force friendships and don’t force friends to be your teachers. This is not anyone’s job but your own. Confused? Watch the quick clip below from Trevor Noah to give a little light and levity to the issue. You mean well, just make sure to do it well.

Learn: You know when you buy a new (or new to you car) and suddenly you see it everywhere? It’s the same with racism. The more you learn about how we got to our present situation, the more you see how it permeates everything, and the better you will be at helping to stop it. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it is one that I have been building myself and through the contributions of friends and leaders I deeply respect (thank you especially to TAB, EM, AM & CC all for your time and thought):

Books  (Thanks, EM & KC!) – Not into reading? Listen on Audible:

  1. How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  2. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
  3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
  4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  5. Native Son by Richard Wright
  6. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  7. Stop Killing Us by Terry Keys
  8. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  9. The Round House by Louise Erdich
  10. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  11. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
  12. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  13. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  14. There There by Tommy Orange
  15. Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  16. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  17. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  18. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America
  19. The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
  20. I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones & Gilly Segal

This article has more

Podcasts, Social Media, Articles & More:

Podcasts

  1. 1619 Project—Podcast from The Times
  2. Following Harriet – Podcast by Tanner Latham

Articles, Websites & a HUGE Resource List (#9)

  1. Kimberlé Crenshaw and her theory of intersectionality (see the highlight reel at the bottom of the page)
  2. “They Was Killing Black People” article
  3. Learn about Juneteenth in the Washington Post
  4. The Case for Reparations by Ta- Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic
  5. The King Center
  6. The Root – sign up for their newsletter
  7. SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice)
  8. White Ally Toolkit
  9. This incredible resource a friend (thank you, TAB!) forwarded to me. I don’t know who to credit for its creation but it is stellar. It also has resources for talking to your kids about race. The Doll Test showed us how early racism can affect our children. Don’t wait to talk to your children. Check it out here

Social – follow these accounts. You won’t be sorry.

  1. Janaya Future Khan – I really recommend this video here
  2. Rachel Cargle
  3. Layla Saad
  4. Ibram X. Kendi
  5. Kiley Clark of Fresh to Farming
  6. Nandi Bushell
  7. PrivtoProg
  8. Queer Appalachia
  9. Check Your Privilege
  10. Patrisse Cullors-Brignac
  11. NAACP
  12. Trevor Noah – watch his standup special Son of Patricia
  13. Kimberly Latrice Jones – featured on Trevor Noah, John Oliver and all over the internet. If you do nothing else, watch this.

Speak: You know the request you see at airports: “If you see something, say something?” Well, if you hear something racist, say something to stop it. We’ve all heard racist things said. It’s time to say something. The more we all speak against even the smallest injustices, the less space we allow them to occupy. If someone tells a racist joke, don’t answer with uncomfortable laughter. Answer with education. Let the joke fall flat. Silence makes injustice louder. Mute, don’t amplify hatred. Share what you’ve learned and implore others to do the same. Speak up for racial justice everywhere.

Support: The Chief and I are on a budget. We are by no means swimming in cash. Every month we sit down and prepare a budget built on necessity versus want. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, but we’ve added donations as a non-negotiable part of our budget. If other things have to give in order to keep this up, give they will.

Every month we research (which takes us to the Learn step again) different organizations fighting for racial justice or that support causes we believe in. For example: Kiley Clark’s dream to start a Black-led, regenerative farm (donate at Kiley’s GoFundMe here). Donations contribute to a down payment on farmland with housing, farm equipment, infrastructure and tools to create a warm, nourishing place where all are welcome. A little more about this amazing project (and person) from Kiley’s GoFundMe page:

“I have always dreamed of working on my own land. As a Black, queer, woman land ownership has felt evasive for much of my life, not having the capital or the generational wealth to make this possible. I want to build a dream together, founded on regenerative, no till practices and paying homage to the traditional ecology knowledge of my ancestors, and the land’s original Indigenous caretakers.

Why now? In this time of horrific pain and reckoning over systemic racism in this country, it is crucial to not just support Black people in our deaths. You must also support Black joy, uplift Black liberation and invest in Black-led organizations and entrepreneurs. The farm I am building will be a community hub, a place where Queer folx can get their hands in the dirt, where our communities can thrive, laugh, and be fed.We’re building this dream together and I can’t wait to welcome you all around my future farm table! Thank you for your love and support.”


Think about the dollars you’re already spending on eating out, home goods, music, etc. Instead of solely shopping or dining (use this site to search Black owned businesses by state) at your typical spots, consider shopping at Black owned companies as well. I love Justina Blakeney’s site Jungalow for anything home goods. So good.

Support artists: anything by Desirée Hernandez of Sonera Pottery makes my heart sing, musicians (a few to recommend: Blood Orange’s Coastal Grooves, Goapele’s Even Closer, Beyoncé’s Lemonade plus accompanying film is important and amazing, The Alabama Shakes, Leon Bridges, Valerie June…), authors (see Books, above).

Support, however, does not have to take the sole form of donations. Support can mean a wealth of things and not all of them have to do with monetary exchanges. Get politically involved. Attend rallies and protests (safely). Uncomfortable with or unable to gather? Seemingly small things like calling and writing your representatives and senators or signing petitions have a huge impact and…

VOTE (please).

Support can flow through all aspects of your life. Does your workplace line up with your anti-racist values? If you’re in charge, change policy anywhere you can to make sure it does. If you’re not in charge, suggest changes. What about your children? Do you talk with them about race? It’s never too early (again, this resource has some really nice info on talking to your kids about racism). If the Doll Test taught us nothing else, it’s that it’s really never too early to talk about race and…(what the Supreme Court left out): diversity makes all of us better. Everyone’s development slows when we are segregated. Do what you can to open your children and yourself diversity. 

Introduce love (like…for ice cream), not hate. Kiddos are sponges. Be careful what you spill.

Listen. Learn. Speak. Support. Just as we are all connected, so too are these four steps. You support a Black author by reading her book, and there you are listening and learning. You hear something you now know to be racist and you speak up. The cycle perpetuates itself, keep it going.

Speak up.

Teach others what you have learned.

Look inward and unearth the not-so-pretty preconceived notions you might have.

Do the work to move through them so you don’t perpetuate them or pass them on to others.

Dismantling racism starts with all of us. Let it begin within yourself.

One last thing:

I hear you if you’re thinking “I’ve struggled too.” I know you have, sweetie. You have without a doubt lived through pain, heartache and injustice. I know you have because you are human and all of these things are part of the human experience. But have you experienced these things based solely on your skin color? Maybe. Or maybe you’ve experienced them because you’re a woman or you grew up poor or you have a disability.

We all have something that has caused us to experience inequality. In this interview with Time earlier this year, Kimberlé  Crenshaw describes today’s expanded notion of intersectionality as “a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”

We’ve all experienced inequality but the reality is, if you’re white, societal norms and protections weigh heavily in your favor to keep you safer than people of color. Injustice is painful for everyone but it is disproportionately deadly to Black people. I mean, have you ever had to have this conversation with your child?

Probably not.

That is the difference. That is white privilege (the societal privileges that benefit white people over non-white people based not on their merit but solely on their skin color). As Peggy McIntosh wrote in White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance”. Invisible systems can be brought to light and undone. It’s time.

Still not quite convinced? Read this article for examples of ways you might not even realize you’re experiencing white privilege or this one for a really helpful breakdown of the term.

Thank you for listening and perhaps, for opening up to learning. I know it wasn’t perfect (and I’m here for and open to feedback) but if we wait for perfect, we will always be silent. Move with your best foot forward, speak from love, live in this world with kindness in your heart and an openness to learn.

Love, this way.

We are all human. We are all equal. We all deserve to be treated as such. 

With love to you and yours,

from Alaska.

…and Leto

I can’t say it enough: watch this

Comments? Additions? Ideas?
Please leave yours down below. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me personally and I LOVE that but I think we also need to converse as a group to learn and grown together. Leave your thoughts below. Thank you for reading.

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Love in the Woods: Year Five

Five years ago, I met my person.

All I had to do was:

turn my life upside down

travel 3,000 miles on a whim

and

go to a Friday evening softball game.

There he was. Apparently, whims can work.

On the way to the game, I had felt so incredibly out of my element. I didn’t even know what to pack for an evening out, as evenings out for me in my oh so recent past had consisted of packing a wallet and chapstick and at the last minute leaving my jacket at home due to its cumbersome nature. In Alaska, my girlfriend guided me through stuffing my pack (not purse) to the brim with layers on layers upon layers, bug spray, a knife, water bottle, drinks, snacks, etc. All for an evening out.

Like I said: out of my element.

Until I met The Chief.

Woods, man.

It may sound cheesy (but cheese is delicious so, whatever) but the moment I felt his hand in mine, sealing our introduction, I felt like I was home. That knowing touch was all I needed to dive head first into what would be the adventure my heart had yearned for: deep, lasting love. And so I dove, full of fear of the unknown, diving anyway. Just because a love is right, doesn’t mean it’s not scary.

A few weeks ago, I was going through some old posts and found this one: Love in the Woods: Year One. Our first anniversary. I’m a sap for anniversaries (clearly) and celebrate every chance I get and here we were, approaching five years. Year one beckoned me in. Who were we back then? I read along:

Blonder, for sure.

“I feel a foundation, now one year old, that has been strong enough to hold us together through all we have seen already.”

Reading this, I felt the heavy weight of a soothsayer, of a future known, already written, unchangeable. I simultaneously felt scorn for my naïveté and wanted to shield my unknowing self from what was to come.

At the time, I thought we had been through so much together. And for the time, at the time, we had. Joining our worlds, traveling, moving, parenting our pup, surgeries and sickness, all of it posed challenges, to our newborn love, yet forward still we went.

Thank goodness. Lucky we were for those small victories that at the time felt so large to prepare us, for we had no idea what was coming:

Six Funerals and a Wedding.

In half a decade, so much has changed from those early, easy days of love at first sight. We’ve lost more than I would have ever believed, had my soothsayer self tried to warn me. That base we developed early on served us well to weather the blows but cracks still found their way into our foundation. Grief has a way of encircling its victims, pulling them away from their pack, isolating them. Despite our strength, grief still tugged us into our own quiet worlds, away from one another, and we’ve had to fight hard to come back together. Fight to remember the ease of the beginning, to focus on the good, to love our base and nurture its cracks.

Such is life, such is love.

Right before our life flip flopped upside down, I was taking a pottery class. In it I heard about Kintsugi, an ancient Japanese technique where broken pottery is mended, not by using a clear adhesive but by way of a golden seal. Kintsugi translates to “golden journey” and is meant to celebrate an artifact’s past by illuminating its fractures, rather than hiding them.

Five years ago, our pottery was fresh from the kiln, the warmth of our creation made us feel safety we’d never known. Five years later, we’re a storied piece, alight with gold. Our golden journey hasn’t always been easy. At times, I’ve wished to simply cover our cracks, to go back to how we were when life was light and easy, but instead we must honor our cracks. We must nurture our simultaneously fierce and delicate love.

Ice fractures

Five years.

Five years ago, we celebrated all day. We at pancakes, went hiking with our Lou and toasted that night with champagne (the cork from which I still have) to our accomplishment: one year. Five years later, the day was far more utilitarian. We spent our anniversary day in a training together and came straight home to prep for a long work weekend ahead. Our celebration was quieter, smaller, a little less bubbles, a little more depth.

In this year, year five, we’ve seen loss but we’ve also finally felt the light return. The separate corners grief iced us into have melted and the ease we felt when we met, the inner calm has only grown. In this year, so much good has come:

We found our Leto

We had a magnificent garden.

Our marriage was blessed by an overwhelming showering of love that continues still to this day.

Wild in Love Photo by Kate Lamb

We stayed put all Winter and nourished our souls in the beauty that is this place that we live.

Another year, unique as can be.

Five years.

Five years ago I met my person. The person who drives me to be my absolute best and who loves me at my absolute worst. The person who knows me so well he can tell I’m upset just by the cadence of my breath. The person who smiles ear to ear at every concert, who cheers me on even when I’m sure I can’t do it. The person who dove with me, headfirst into our love and swam with me, hand in hand.

Our beginning was something out of a storybook and thank goodness for that because it convinced me to pay attention to the gift that life was giving. It gave me the undying understanding that this is where I’m meant to be.

Bloom where you are planted.

Diving into love isn’t the scariest part, it’s navigating the waters afterwards. It’s keeping your head above water, it’s holding your love up when it’s too tired to carry you. Yet, it’s worth it. Even when it’s hard, even when it’s messy, finding The Chief has set my heart at ease, it has brought me home, to our golden journey.

Cheers to love, always,

from Alaska.

My favorite.