winter

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

Somedays, in the woods of Alaska, you wake up to an exact serving of fresh coffee grounds and the sweet sound of the tea kettle already boiling water. Your kitchen promises two dozen eggs at your disposal and the woodstove glows with last nights logs, now in beautiful coal form which means, lighting a fire will be a cinch and that the house is already likely above 50 degrees. Plus, a huge stack of firewood rests at your disposal next to the fireplace. You barely have to step outside for more than your morning “restroom” break (read: one must learn the art of the nature pee to live out here).

You spend your morning drinking your coffee, having scrambled eggs with veggies (you have tons at the moment) and your favorite cheese and even some orange juice on the side. You’re freshly showered and the laundry bin is empty as you spent the day yesterday doing laundry, depleting your water stores, and then hauling water to replenish them. You are stocked up in all avenues: food, warmth, clothing, hygiene, water and you even have some extras sprinkled on: orange juice, special cheese, freshly cleaned socks.

You are, as my Mama would say “In ’em”.

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

Things are looking on the bright side and lining up quite nicely.

On the other hand, some mornings, you wake up to a house at 37 degrees. You gingerly grab your robe, cursing the logs you had hoped would “catch” before you went to sleep and cursing yourself for not babying them further to ensure they would put out warmth. You go downstairs to find that there not only are no grounds, but there is no coffee, at which point, the rummaging begins to find where exactly in this tiny home of yours, you’ve hidden this gem from yourself. You further find that you are nearly out of water but luckily enough, you have just enough for coffee and so delicately fill up the tea kettle, hoping not to spill a drop. You’ll be hauling water shortly.

You go to light a fire and find that the fire did not catch well, but did leave you with a charcoal mess, by the time you organize it, you look like a chimney sweep. You resign to build another fire but there is no wood in the house at which point you decide to venture outside into what will, of course, be a brr-inducing morning and find that there is no chopped wood outside either. Being a stubborn beast, you decide to chop wood, despite the cold, with bare hands and slippers in your robe. Wild-haired, sweating with soot on your face, you return to start a fire, just as your water boils. Now it’s time to build a fire, find the coffee (and hope that you, in fact, do have extra coffee) and grind it. 15 minutes later, you’re finally getting the day started. It’s breakfast time but you realize your last egg went down the gullet yesterday and so you opt for oatmeal instead but realize you don’t even have enough water. A slightly mealy apple it is.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

In all likelihood, your last shower was a bit too far off for comfort, your socks have been “recycled” once or twice (let’s be honest, at least twice) and your fresh food supply is starting to not even meet Alaska Good standards (a term my girlfriend created in California as a way to gauge if something was indeed too far gone to eat. Alaska Good is still edible, but it’s close. Really close. I’ve been known to grab things before people throw them in the compost, saving apples with little bruises and lettuce that has a few slimy pieces but I do cap it at Alaska Good, most of the time). You’re dirty, hungry, under-caffeinated, out of water, out of wood, warm only because of the exercise your just beginning day already required and the only extra you have sprinkled on is the plethora of chores you have to do. The only bright side is that you can see the beautiful fire you just made because in the ebb you made an amazing concoction out of orange peels that takes away the grime and leaves you with this:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

You’re, as my Mama would say “Not in ’em”.

Some days, you’re in ’em and some days, you’re so far out of ’em you don’t remember what ’em looked like.

The ebb and flow here might as well be called the drought and the downpour because that is exactly how it goes.

Home from Town?

In ’em.

You’ve got meats and cheeses and eggs, oh my! Juices and fruits and veggies! You even have spinach.

Spinach, people. In the woods. That stuff barely keeps in the city but somehow, if you baby it every day, you can make it last a week here.

And then, a week passes and suddenly, supplies are rapidly decreasing. What felt like a boatload of supplies starts to look more like a mere bucket full and the rationing begins.

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

Yet oftentimes, just as you’re about to grab your divining rod, Alaska smiles upon you in the drought. Just as you crack your last egg, your friend’s chickens come out of Winter production and he’s selling again. Just as you face down your last bell pepper, your girlfriend picks you up one as a present one day while doing a laundry journey into Close Town.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Or, you remember the Shaggy Manes your girlfriend gave you a while back and you rehydrate them.

 

 

And the same rings true in reverse. Just as your neighbor runs out of salt, there you are, having bought extra with extra to spare. When all of your avocados ripen at once, you make a guacamole to share or you send one along as a gift. And then it returns, for just as you feel you can’t possibly cook another darn meal (as you cook every meal you eat, every day), someone calls to say they made extra chili if you’re hungry.

Of course, you are and you have a block of cheddar to top that chili with.

The go around come around makes the drought and downpour feel a little less torrential and a little more like an ebb and flow. It makes a life that can be hard, a little easier for even though the hard is what makes it good, sometimes you just need a little reprieve.

I’ve never lived a life where I couldn’t just pop into the store for what I’ve needed. I’ve never relied on my neighbors or felt comfortable enough doing so to call them at 9 pm and ask if they have an extra can of tomato paste. I’ve never cherished fresh as I do today or looked at a salad as if it were a goddess.

So, despite the sometimes harshness of the drought and downpour, the frustration of there not being wood, or not being water, or feeling like I may as well put in to be a member of the Garbage Pail Kids, the appreciation provided by the times where we are “In ’em” is enough. This place makes gratitude easy for the necessities are obvious and the ebb or flow of them is immediate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Ice Fall Nizina River Alaska

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

may your water buckets (or pipes) be full, may your pantries be stocked, may your baths be often (I am living vicariously through you, a bath is a gift from the Gods) and may your neighbors be kind enough to send over a little sugar once in a while.

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Polar Bear Alpaca

A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home

We’ve arrived.

After two weeks of shuffling and switching between sleeping spots, packing and unpacking and repacking again, we’ve arrived home.

Home.

From the moment we left California, everything was different (other than shipping a case of wine for free, that was the same. Thank you STS + Alaska Airlines).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home CA view to AK.jpg

The goodbye glow.

 

 

 

For the first time, we returned to Alaska saying “Yes”.

For the first time, we returned with clear work plans for the Spring and Summer months.

For the first time, we traveled in our own truck with a working heater.

For the first time, we returned in late Winter.

For the first time, we returned just us two.

 

Once on the Alaska side of things, we were smoothly skating along.

Pre-Alaska wasn’t as easy. Our last day went a little like this: high stress, filled with rain, a broken car defroster + windows that won’t roll down = no visibility, locked out of our storage unit where ALL of The Chief’s new tools that he needs for the season were stored, soaked in rain trying to get in and then running my face into my car window in an effort to jump quickly inside, resulting in a sweet little shiner.

There were a few too many last-minute chores and odds and ends but, in the end, the skies cleared and we sat at the kitchen table, my Brother, my Nephew (the fearless, toothless wonder), my Mom, The Chief and I eating tuna salad and laughing it off. It was good and hard to leave. My heart straddles the states with neither part taking or leaving more. It’s good to arrive and hard to leave each time, each place.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Fresh Squeezed Lemonade

The simple joys of California living: making fresh squeezed blood orange lemonade in March.

 

 

But leave we did in the smoothest of fashions and arrived just the same. We were back to our well-oiled machine Alaskan selves.

I wait for luggage, you pick up the car (already running and warm inside. Pure luxury).

You drive the icy streets, I navigate.

We arrived at The Musher & Hula’s Anchorage abode around 2 am, you know, the normal hour for guests and immediately, I felt Alaska sinking in. After being gone for so long, I was missing that connection.

The smooth continued on into the next day when we gazed upon the two lists I’d made:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Blood Orange Lemonade

List magic. The Chief is in the background pondering my superhuman abilities…

 

 

One listing everything we had at home.

Another, listing everything we needed.

The Chief congratulated himself on being genius enough to have caught such a genius fiancée.

Arriving at 2 am and leaving one day later sounded ambitious, but as we floated through our chores 12 hours later, we became giddy with the reality that we were indeed heading home tomorrow.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Costco.jpg

Just one basket!

 

 

 

After dinner at R&J’s with even more Alaskan friends, we were getting more and more excited to head home.

And, an early rise and a blood draw later (we had to at least throw in some medical issues) and we were off.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Alaskan Men.jpg

My moon, my man.

 

 

We’d heard tales of The Road, 60 miles of ice covered in slush and so we steadied ourselves for a tough journey but 6 hours later, as we laid our first tracks, it still felt easy, breezy.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home McCarthy Road

Easy, breezy because I wasn’t driving, that is.

 

 

After a few quick inhale moments (on my part, The Chief was relaxed, as always while driving in insane conditions) crossing through some tougher road glaciers, we were home. We arrived at our snowmachine, with the sled attached, at the end of our driveway, ready to haul our goods to an already heated house with working lights.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Snowman.jpg

Snow aliens.

 

 

It has never been easier.

Lordy, I love our friend family.

The hard part came in heart form when we awoke from our warm bed the morning after to the quiet. I quickly awoke, worried that I’d slept too long and Lou would be hungry. But, of course, Lou wasn’t there.

 

Just the quiet.

Just the two of us.

 

Through all of the beautiful, growing up life changes we’ve welcomed since we’ve left from and returned to Alaska, that jarring sadness still remains. It followed us through California to Ecuador and back, all in different forms, despite the thought that I might escape it. It’s smaller but it’s there.

Thankfully, so are our friends.

After a cry and a realization that we needed the house to fill up with more than just our own sounds, we heard a call. Just like that, our needs were met, as our neighbor (who had set our house up so cherry for us – which was no quite feet given the inch of solid ice under all the snow. That’s a lot of Ramp of Doom chipping…) hollered as he walked over. An hour later, another neighbor followed with his pooch and after him more and more of our family (canine and human) arrived until we found ourselves amongst half of the valley, at a bonfire in our backyard.

We’ve arrived.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home Polar Bear Alpaca

My favorite spot. Patterns, much?

 

 

 

 

 

Home again, home again, different as it may be and same as it always was, joys and sadnesses set in balance by those we share this place with and are lucky enough to call our friend family. Thank you for making it easy, physically and emotionally, to snuggle in so sweetly again.

Welcome home.

Love,

Winter & Friends

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis A Straddling Heart Heads Alaskaways Home True Romance.jpg

With love, The Scribe & The Chief

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Sonoma Coast

In the 30’s

The last time I traveled, really traveled, the kind of travel where you look at your departure date on your calendar with Mr. January posing coyly amongst snowflakes and have to switch all the way to Mr. March (sorry Mr. February, you know I love you too) in his springtime garb in order to find your return date was a long time ago.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Viva Italia Siena Italy

Viva Italia. 19 years old.

 

 

Growing up, I was a lucky little toehead and travel was a normal part of my life. My Grandma Gam took me to Ireland, I vacationed with friends in Hawaii, every year my Mom and I went to Mexico for a week to beat the Winter blues and in between I found myself exploring the sweet states of our country. Like I said, I was a lucky little beast. I ate up travel with as much gusto as I ate up my daily pancakes. I loved seeing new sights, smelling new smells, meeting new people and (obviously) tasting new foods. Travel, to me, was glorious.

It was also the norm.

So, when I flew the coop at 17 all the way to our Nation’s capital, I thought it would simply continue.

It turns out, travel is expensive and colleges, unlike high schools, look down upon a 10-day Mexican hurrah mid-Spring Semester. Who knew?

I had an inkling, but it quickly became a solid reality. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate travel or money, I had worked almost full-time since the age of 14 but I hadn’t booked and paid for my own travel until then.

Jules, are you coming home for Turkey day?

Maybe, if I can afford it.

Travel had changed.

And so, suddenly, here I am in my 30’s and it’s been almost ten years since I’ve traveled, really traveled, skipping Calendar Boys style traveling. It felt like it was yesterday but suddenly, a decade has slipped past.

Well, hello Mr. March, here we come because…

In the past two and a half years, I have settled.

Not in the “I guess he’s good enough way” (see last week’s post if you’re worried, he’s full stack of pancakes amazing). No, in the “Oh sweet heavens, I uprooted my entire life, changed residencies, changed professions and fell deeply in love soon to be married” kind of way. You know, life. So, after that upheaval, the Scorpio in me needed to nestle down and settle.

And…done!

One day last year, it was like a timer had gone off. The bachelor pad was suddenly a home. We’d built it together. We even had a living room rug and a couch with throw pillows to boot. The table had a tablecloth and the house glittered with fresh flowers in vases. Vases, people!

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's McCarthy AK Home Decor

I guess I’ve allowed color into my life.

 

 

Any more domesticity and we’d never leave again. The travel bell had gone off.

Now, we answer it’s call.

The Chief and The Scribe are taking off.

Hola, Ecuador.

For the next 6-weeks, we will be navigating the sunny south in search of…everything. It will be the first time The Chief and I have traveled together outside the States and the first time I’ve traveled (really traveled) in ten years since my seriously unexpected Italian escapade.

And let me tell you…things have changed.

 

Me packing 10 years ago, day of departure: I have 25 pairs of underwear, tanning oil and a bathing suit. Done!

My Mom, watching me pack 10 years ago, day of departure: Please, please tell me you at least have your passport.

Me: Ummmmm…

My Mom: all of her nails are now bitten off (not really, she would never bite her nails, but you get the point).

Me: Oh yeah, here it is. Not even expired!

 

Success?!

 

The Chief & I packing 10 years later: 

Me: Ok, I’ve called in all of our prescriptions for refills for the next 90 days because you never know and I’ve spent the last 6 hours researching how to do this on the cheap.

The Chief: Perfect. I’ve set-up our immunization appointments and put together a med kit (unveils med kit the size of a small child).

Things have changed. My toiletries 10 years ago consisted of a bar of soap and lotion. Now, that lotion has delineations: Night Cream, Day Cream, Body Lotion, After-Sun Lotion…the list goes on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Packing for Ecuador

All the things…and by all the things I mean a fraction of all the things.

 

 

 

We could rough it again, travel on the fly like the times of our 20’s past but there’s something about the 30’s that makes you say…no, gracias.

Let’s just put it this way: I love me some Earl Grey (have you seen the double bergamot edition? Be still my heart) tea and you better believe I’m packing a two month supply, right next to my daily multiple vitamins.

I don’t think I even took monthly vitamins at twenty-something and I certainly didn’t know my coffee or tea order (London fog, anyone? Try it.)

And so we embark, a little older than the last time we both traveled, maybe a little wiser but equally, completely excited.

And you, sweet reader, are invited.

Let’s dip our toes in some sand, shall we? It’s been far too long.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis In the 30's Sonoma Coast

Flipping Coasts.

 

 

Cheers to the 20’s, the 30’s, the 40’s the 50’s the 50’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and 100’s and beyond. Cheers to knowing ourselves better as each year passes, to settling and to finding the new within and wherever we may go.

 

// Lovely readers: have you been to Ecuador? What should we not miss? Please, do tell and leave a comment below. //

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Travis Winters

The Cult

The crazy that California seems to outsiders has proven true.

I’ve joined a cult.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Travis Winters

 

 

“What kind of cult?” you say. “There are so many options!” you worry.

True that, pussy cat. Options abound in the strange world of the old West but I’ve gone with a simpler approach: The Cult of Busy.

This cult’s techniques are sly as a fox and crazy as a loon (thanks to John Prine and Iris Dement for the perfect description). I did my best to stay away, my best to avoid it, to not look it in the eye lest it sees me and my self-control be lost forever. Yet, alas, at some point I looked up, into the heart of the beast and I myself was devoured.

 

The Cult of Busy.

 

The moment we left the woods, it felt as if someone had turned the music up. The walls widened and the opportunities shifted as the road took us to the big city and onto California.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach

Out of the Woods. A New Narnia.

 

 

 

The last two years here, we’ve run about like chickens after slaughter, manically trying to soak in the goodness to the last drop and running ourselves ragged in the process. There’s so much to do and so many people I deeply love that I want to see that every second I had, I scheduled.

This year, we were going about it differently. The pace the prior years was too much and I would end up arriving to somewhere I really wanted to be with people I desperately missed and I wouldn’t actually be there, I’d be worn out and show up as the less than best version of me.

So I started opting out early in Summer to save stamina for California, while also deciding to take it more slowly in the big CA. I realized that I am an Introverted Extrovert and gave myself the go-ahead to turn down the bass and slow the pace. Besides, this year we were better set-up. We would have a 2 month-long home base. No moving every other week, no going out to dinner and driving in traffic every night because we had no way to cook. The busy extras which were what truly kept me busy and exhausted be gone, making room for what I really wanted to do.

The plan worked.

Sort of.

I forgot to factor in the whole culture shock thing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult McCarthy Alaska

 

 

Our first week here, culture shock was at its peak. We tried to go to a movie, we drove all the way there saw a huge line and a parking lot teeming with people and…we turned around and took our shocked selves back home into the woods.

It took us a week to try again.

I swear, in the 6 months since I was last here, this place has somehow gotten busier.

The 15 minutes I used to allot myself to get into Town now requires 20-30 and the “quick trips” to the grocery store had The Chief returning to me hours later looking like he’d gone through a war.

And…this is the quiet time of year.

The Winter is seen as a time to slow down, go inward, cuddle up and cozy down for a Winter’s rest, no?

Maybe, but the pace is still daunting at first.

The Cult of Busy.

I’m a card-carrying member these days, paying my dues but the thing is, so is everyone around me. I’m not busy solely because of the scarcity of our time here, it’s just busy.

 

Everyone is busy.

I’m busy.

You’re busy.

My nephew is busy.

My nephew is 6.

 

 

Or so I thought.

 

Enter: old friends to put a little candor in that Kool-aid.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult The Ka-Ca-Jus

Oh weird, where did that rainbow come from?

 

 

 

My girlfriends, nicknamed by my Dad as the Ka-Cas, renamed by me as the Ka-Ca-Ju’s (ALL of their names start with Ka or Ca and then there’s me, Ju) and I were out to brunch (insert snarky bougie comment here) this past weekend. It was the first time all five of us had been together for two years and well, a lot had changed.

For one, we were seven now.

Two of my childhood loves had become mothers, of daughters nonetheless. Our clan is growing and the group is now made of mothers and non-mothers and so, we talked about the differences. The pros, the cons and the reality that they both exist, always and forever in whatever situation you’re in. It made me so grateful to hear all of the possibilities of life broken down and dissected and into their basic form where…they were all, in essence, the same.

Here we were, holding babies and brunching, talking about the ups and downs of life. Twenty years ago we were doing the same thing only different. Talking over cereal, discussing topics like curly vs. straight hair or the pros and cons of divorced versus still married parents.

Twenty years later, everything has changed and at the same time, nothing has changed and it made me realize that we are still who we were as kids, twenty years ago.

It amazing to come home to our number Home 1 of 2 to a brunch of babes, babies and benedicts and…some realizations.

Realization #1: Living in Alaska, I’ve compared and contrasted California and Alaska to no end which has made me appreciate both, but I realize that it’s exactly like that brunch: they are different but the same. Both good, both bad, both life, both busy.

Realization #2: Yup. The Cult of Busy? I’ve been in it the whole time. I was while growing up here (I was an early inductee) and I am in Alaska, it’s just a different type of busy with different options which have taught me to appreciate how things were before I started hibernating in my Winters away from here. People often ask me how I fill up the days in Alaska and I laugh because I honestly don’t know where they travel off to, but they’ve certainly collected some stamps on their passports. And that’s because:

I am a person who is busy.

I have always been busy.

I realize this now.

Nothing like brunch to really pack a reality punch.

It’s not California or Alaska or any state or state of being in-between, it’s a constant. The busy of one looks glamorous from the place of another and vice versa but the grass isn’t greener and the snow isn’t whiter (O.K. but the wine is certainly better in one place. Guess where?!) It’s me. I’m the busy one. Yes, this place has certainly gotten exponentially busier, but me, I’m the same. I’m a busy bee. No wonder my friends nicknamed me The Hummingbird.

While The Chief will carve out time to spend a day reading with the ease of a blade through soft butter, I feel like I’m chiseling a new Mt. Rushmore.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult My Christopher

My Man and His Book.

 

 

I found the Cult of Busy or the Cult found me but either way, we are inextricably intertwined.

For now.

And so, for now, I dive right into this type of busy with a little side of understanding, courtesy of time away, courtesy of Alaska.

My days, for now, are no longer filled with chopping wood and hauling water and hour-long dish debacles and day-long shower set-ups and so, I can work more, chore less and see the place and the people who made me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach 2

Family & Friends at the Beach

 

 

From friends and family to world-class wines and restaurants to the sheer awesomeness of quick store runs and street side garbage service this place is stocked full of so many people I love and all the comforts of life one could hope for and I didn’t appreciate it enough until I didn’t have it. Alaska taught me to savor in scarcity and so while in this place of abundance, I feel like a kid freshly paid an allowance in a candy store. Hot water? Hot showers? Dark chocolate with sea salt anytime I like? Hello, Heaven? I must have been good.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Dillon Beach 3

No Doctoring Needed. Beach Heaven.

 

 

So, yes, the Cult of Busy? I’ve paid my dues and the late fees I incurred while pretending I wasn’t a member. I’ve even tried to recruit others to no avail (The Chief refuses). I’m in it and maybe someday I’ll bow out and bid adieu.

So it goes. I started the week thinking I had unknowingly joined a Cult and it turns out I may have been one of the founding mothers. There’s nothing like a gaggle of girlfriends to put life in perspective, to hold a mirror up and say “Take a peek. You’ve been you all along.”

Hats off to you, life. Sneaky, very sneaky.

 

Cheers to you and yours, wherever, you may be. May the contrast you find bring out the beauty in each place you land.

 

And to you, Alaska, I’ll see you soon. As for now, I carry you with me.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 12/11/17 The Cult Alaskan Winter

Winter Wonder.

 

 

 

Your Shoes are Too Small (and Other Lessons in “Adulting”)

Up until I was 25 I always bought my shoes one size too small.

Minimum.

After years of competitive dancing and sports I was convinced I wore a size 7.

I’m an 8.5.

Minimum.

Perhaps the vanity factor played into my delusion, but overall, it was delusion. Growing up competing in Irish dancing (go ahead, insert Michael Flatley joke) from Kindergarten on I was beyond adept at squeezing myself into too tiny shoes. I was under the impression from fellow dancers and teachers alike that smaller shoes meant better control and in a competition that relies on precision and perfection any trick to help was welcome. So, I wore the smallest shoes I could fit into. And it worked. This little leprechaun of a lady bounced high and moved quickly because of those tiny shoes.

Or maybe I just powered through despite them.

Either way, I applied this tiny shoe logic to all the other shoes in my life. Soccer shoes? I can run faster. Volleyball? I’m better on my toes. Everyday shoes? They fit just fine (perhaps this was where the vanity factor coupled with the delusion).

My Mom, my ultimate dance supporter, would question my sizing, wondering why my toes were going numb and why I constantly had Charlie Horses waking me up in a panic in the night. Nonetheless, I would constantly reassure her not to worry. It couldn’t be the shoes.

She grew hip to my unintentional lies and one day I came home to a gift.

It was a journal and the cover, painted in water-color and written in caligraphy, said:

“Life is too short to wear small shoes.”

It credited a Chinese proverb that I’ve never been able to unearth but it struck me. And from then on…

Nothing changed. I still bought my shoes too small, until eventually, at 25 for some reason (probably due to the continued encouragement from running shoe stores who wanted me to buy a size bigger than my shoe size) I gave in and bought the right size, finally.

My Mom noticed this shift and said: “You’re making changes, my dear. You’re heading towards adulthood.”

A small move like this may not seem like much and in the grand scheme of things, maybe it isn’t but between the two of us, we knew the meaning of this shift went deeper and the wheels were starting to turn.

It started there and it’s been a back and forth trail ever since.

I’m trying to be an adult, or at least my version of one.

I’m not sure if it’s the act of trying that makes one an adult or the end result. Perhaps one day I’ll end up at a door at the end of an alley off my normal trajectory which will open to me, unveiling an inside filled with all the adults in my life blowing noisemakers and throwing confetti, all standing under a big sign that says:

You made it. Welcome to adulthood.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 12.42.44 PM.png

Something like this would be awesome.

 

Perhaps. And if so, I hope to find that party. But I think the key lies in the first part: trying.

 

One month or so ago I threw my neck out something fierce and was laid out for over a week.

In the woods.

A place where almost everything I need requires my body to be functioning.

Water: Need my body.

Hauling and chopping wood: Yup, need it still.

Making a fire: Yessirree Bob.

It all requires physicality or help.

Thankfully, I still had the latter.

The Chief stepped in and took over all household operations. Simply sitting still left me in searing pain as my neck threatened to shift further out-of-place. Even boiling water for tea was a feat for me. He chopped and hauled the wood and made the fires and hauled the water and babied me back to health. It was 10 days before I was fully back in action. I was losing my mind while simultaneously patting myself on the back (gently).

I’ve had back and neck problems for as long as I can remember. The WWF was beyond popular when we were growing up and my Brother practiced the awesome moves on me, much to my neck’s chagrin. By the time I was 7 I was in a neck brace and seeing a chiropractor weekly. Add to that falling off my horse more times than I can count and concussing my little head more times than I’d like to admit via falls and car accidents. The last one was a real doozy and left me with an instability that I’ve yet to be able to pinpoint and that sends me into spasms and “outs” as often as the mail plane flies in. Yet, over the years I’ve done little to fix this foible of mine. I’ve minimized it, forgetting how much it interrupts my life until it would happen again.

But that won’t fly anymore. Not out here. Enter: Adulting, Step 1 (I’m still on Step 1): Take Care of Yourself

Gosh, this may sound easy to some but, as I’m still stuck on it, you can tell it’s hard for me.

Taking the 10 days to rehab was the first time I’ve ever let myself heal from an injury completely. Asking for help was harder than getting out of bed (and that was near impossible) but somehow the words came out of my mouth. I even followed that trajectory and set up an appointment with the local body worker who also happens to my one of my best girlfriends. In the past, I would have pushed out of the injury and ran like hell from it, pretending nothing had transpired. But this time, I was hellbent on breaking that pattern. Upkeep, dear reader. Upkeep.

And so, we scheduled a session. I drove gingerly over on the snow machine and 5 hours later (after a 3.5 hour session just centered on my neck and then a bit of girl time) The Chief arrived to take me home. Asking for him to pick me up? Hated it. My girlfriend said I had to but worst of all my girlfriend also said that I was not to do any sort of lifting, driving, skiing etc. for at least 48 hours in order for her work to set in (she realigns muscles, that’s the best way to describe it). A year ago, I wouldn’t have heeded her advice, despite the investment of the session. Things needing to be done would have taken precedence over things needing to heal (me). But this time, I did it, with the essential help of The Chief. We both had to remember not to let me do things and it made me feel vulnerable in a way I’ll have to further explore but…we did it.

And then, she was leaving and so was I.

I had started this train of health and despite my prior track record, I was ready to keep it going. I had been doing my prescribed exercises every day (I think that deserves all the gold stars) and truly listening to my body. Instead of skiing when I didn’t feel up to it, I would go for a walk or just stretch that day. I was taking her advice but…she was leaving and so was I.

It would be at least two months before I could see her for another session and although I was making progress in keeping my muscles in their newly defined places, they were starting to slip, starting to spasm and starting to hurt. I had started a new exercise routine, reminiscent of my past regimes that I hadn’t been able to do in years. The idea of having to pause my progress to recover again from bodywork left my forward craving mind in a tumble. In the past, I wouldn’t have thought twice. I would have avoided the two-day (and potentially more) “setback” of the bodywork and just let the months pass, at which point, upon her return I would probably have avoided scheduling again, until the next big episode.

But I’m in the end stage of Step 1, people. Things are changing.

And so I made that appointment.

The thing was, last time it took us a week to retrieve the snow machine we had left over there when I had driven myself and The Chief had picked me up. It had snowed and rained and driving in those conditions would have created a rutted, hardened mess for everyone when it froze up. Plus The Chief had been working all day in 20 below and by sunset neither of us felt like gearing up, yet again, to brave the plummeting temperatures.

So, the best solution?

Walk or ski and The Chief would retrieve me.

I opted for a walk that day, in the hopes of catching up with a girlfriend by phone on the way there.

As fate would have it, she was just arriving at work. Our conversation was short and sweet and that was probably a good thing because before long I was huffing and puffing my way there.

 

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I quickly realized that the 90 minutes I had allotted myself to get to her house would be cutting it close.

I stepped it up a notch.

My backpack was loaded down with warm gear for the ride home on the snow machine with The Chief and after the workout I had already done that morning, I was beginning to second guess if I would make it on time. My legs felt like Jell-O.

 

 

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4.5 miles and exactly 90 minutes later, I arrived at her doorstep, sweating and…

spasm-ing.

It turns out that a 90 minute power walk through snow with a loaded pack wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered.

Thankfully, I had arrived at my back doctor and extra thankfully, she is my girlfriend because immediately upon entering her cabin I stripped down. I was a sweaty mess. I lay my clothes out to dry. Finally, I recovered and made myself presentable (and touchable) again (see, this is where running water comes in really handy. But, for the time being, baby wipes will have to recover us from a workout) for the work ahead.

It was time to get on the table.

Two-and-a-half hours later I opened my eyes to darkened skies and lamplight (she’s so good). It had been painful in the best of ways and I could feel my body realigning. Thankfully, she could see and feel my progress and was able to work deeper since the bigger muscles had finally stopped having to be so protective.

An hour later, The Chief came to get me and we said our “goodbyes” for the next two months. I missed her already.

The Chief slowly drove us home, checking to make sure the bumps weren’t too bumpy or the wind too whipping.

Thirty minutes later when we arrived home I was like a horse to stable. Straight to bed. I was exhausted.

The next day I woke up and did a body scan: how was I feeling? (Super Adulting!)

Pretty darn good!

Immediately my thoughts went to: well, I could probably chop some wood then, since we are out (not so Adulting).

Down girl.

Instead of breaking my promise to lay low right off the bat I asked The Chief to chop us wood.

Ugh.

I did it anyways.

My body was still exhausted from the work and from the day’s events prior to the work but the only part of me that was truly sore? My back from my walk. I had pushed too hard and I knew it as I was going but…I did it anyways. She would have gladly picked me up on her snow machine but no, I had been stubborn.

I lay low that first day, taking a walk and stretching only for exercise. When we were invited to dinner and everyone was riding snow machines I swallowed my pride and asked if we could drive.

But come Day 2, the restlessness had set in.

Another dinner invite and this one we couldn’t drive to, at least not in a car (unless we wanted to buy two bridge keys and not eat for the rest of the month). It was a snow machine only trip. I wavered back and forth. I felt good but didn’t want to push it. At the same time, the trip was beautiful. It took us downriver to the confluence and up the meeting river into a wide open space I’d never dreamed I would adventure to. But still, I was cautious. The second wind event of the week before had completely windblown the trail (which I now understand to mean that it had compacted it) and with our snow machine’s wonky skis, it would be a tough drive.

I decided to go.

 

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The middle of the river.

 

 

I know, I know but these aren’t trips we take everyday. I couldn’t help myself and I wanted to feel normal instead of delicate.

 

 

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We agreed to take it slow and we did but going there is much easier than coming home.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bundled to the brim

 

In the dark of night, the journey became a bit more treacherous. The bumps became less avoidable and the skis dipped in less mercifully, pulling us over. We made it home all in one piece but the hour plus ride had taken its toll. I went up to bed bumped up and grumpy.

The next morning I awoke to what I knew I would find: ouch. I was in pain, again. Yet, instead of beating myself up, I broke out the med kit. Arnica oil and stretching and rest to the rescue.

I guess it’s fair to say that I’m still learning. This adulting thing seems to go up and down, to and fro and often somewhere in-between. But I am trying and I finally have a sense of what it feels like.

A few days later and I was back at my new routine, shaking the house with jumping jacks and other plyometric plays but never without checking in during the routine and following it with some serious stretching afterwards.

When I first realized I was starting to grasp Step 1 of Adulting I figured it was solely age, and to some capacity I’m sure it is but I also think it’s this place. I’ve always been motivated by a deadline and this place serves it up full force. By living where I rely on myself, I have to actually become reliable to myself. And I’ve had to learn to rely on others. Pushing forward, even if “I can do it” doesn’t always mean I should. Being “out” for a week because of doing something avoidable that ended in injury? Not so impressive and arguably selfish. Still, my ego gets the best of me some days and I add that extra stack of wood to an already full armload or ski that extra unnecessary hour or carry two buckets when my body really only wants one. And some days I listen.

It’s a give and a take kind of thing but I’m starting to learn this step nonetheless. And hey, at least now my shoes fit (well, most of them at least).

One step at a time, in mostly well-fitting attire.

Life is too short for small shoes.

 

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…and too short to forget to take snow naps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mail Plane

I love getting mail.

Don’t you?

Real mail.

Not bills.

Not solicitations.

Not catalogs that look like they’ve logged an entire forest for each shipment.

Real mail. Something you see and it immediately draws you elsewhere, to the place and the person whence it came.

Certainly, in our digital age where I can find out what a friend had for breakfast and what her day looks like without even talking to her, the handwritten letter has become outpaced.

Yet there isn’t a single person with whom I’ve exchanged addresses that upon the end of our transaction doesn’t immediately say (insert slight squealing inflection) “Oh, I love receiving mail!”.

And, to add a cherry (Amarena, please) to that sundae let’s talk about the best kind of mail there is (besides, perhaps, a love letter): care packages.

The first time I ever went away to Summer Camp my Mom brought up the now never-ending wormhole of the world of Care Packages (she had no idea what she was getting herself into).

What is this I hear? Special packages? Just for me? It’s not my birthday or Christmas or any other present day. So what is this magical package you speak of and how do I get my hands on one?

My mind did a backflip as I tried to steady myself long enough to answer emphatically that yes, of course I wanted a care package. Care packages would be best, if you get my drift.

I had never heard of such a thing.

But sure enough it was real and apparently a secret everyone else had heard as well. I arrived at camp and not a day later kids were receiving care packages. One day? This seemed excessive. Most of us lived a mere 15 minute drive away from the camp. Big whoop. Get a hold of yourselves. One day. Sheesh!

Yet by day 7, when I received my care package, my tune had changed. I nearly ripped the wrapping open with my teeth I was so excited to see what was inside. And within the box there was (cue the angels singing in the background)…

A Mama Note (always read the note first. Always).

Trinkets that I can’t exactly remember but for which I am grateful, nonetheless.

and…

Brownies!!!

???

Wait, did my Mom just send me brownies? My Mom? The Mom of mine whom offers me dessert in the form of grapes or strawberries (both of which I would accept quite gratefully at the moment), if I am lucky? Sure there was the occasional ice cream treat or dessert birthday or random bag of Milano cookies that I didn’t love but would eat nonetheless. Yet for the most part, we rarely had sweets in the house. Friends would always mention it when they came over. Where are your sweets?

Heck if I know but…we aren’t at home anymore and some sweets just showed up…in my care package.

To my 9-year old self this wasn’t just about the chocolatey goodness, it was about the freedom for my sugar craving self to ration these brownies however I liked. And how did that go? Well straight to Stomach Ache City, of course.

Despite my tumbling tummy, since then, the idea of a care package was the ultimate in extended stays away from home. My Mom once sent me a cake in Washington, D.C. where I was going to school, for my 18th birthday. It was an Almond Torte, the official cake of our birthdays ((we are one week (and I guess also some years) apart and so our birthdays were often a communal celebration)). She shipped it 3,000 miles so that I would have a little piece of home with me.

That’s really what it is…it’s a piece from somewhere else. A piece of you that you send to someone else or perhaps a pieces of them they didn’t know they were missing.

And out here, scarcity makes those pieces even more special.

You see, out here our mail comes in via plane. There’s no mail man or mail woman roaming the backwoods in search of our mailbox because we don’t have one. The mail goes to the nearest Post Office about 4 hours away where we all “have” P.O. Boxes. This creates quite the fuss. Even the Post Office will tell you that our address doesn’t exist. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to coax people into just sending something anyway. I know the address doesn’t come up as real. It’s not. There are no P.O. Boxes in the Post Office for us. Instead, there is our Mail Shack, 4 hours away with our boxes inside.

 

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Weather permitting, mail comes in twice a week.

Twice.

Weather permitting.

In the Winter, those three words mean quite a lot.

This last week we were pummeled by rain and the planes couldn’t fly. Last month snowstorms made flying impossible as well. Now before you judge away, know that these aren’t newbie pilots; these pilots will fly when I will barely even step outside. Yet sometimes even they meet their weather match and find themselves grounded by intuition or regulations or both. And so, we wait. For each day following a non-delivery, they attempt to come in. Sometimes the next day’s skies are Bluebird (I love this expression and I’d never heard it until here. Bright blue skies as far as the eye can see), sometimes they follow suit with the day before. Either way they keep trying until eventually, the next mail day comes.

 

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A panoramic which flips the buildings but still, the airstrip is the big gap in the middle.

And when it does, it’s quite the site to be seen. Sure, The Chief has seen it a million times and so has everyone else and I’m the only one sitting out there, mouth gaping wide in amazement at how this tiny little plane can land in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter in the middle of a snowfield. I look like the newbie and that’s O.K. because I don’t know if it will ever cease to amaze me.

 

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The runway. Not exactly flat, eh?

 

Down the plane touches and the group of mail-goers gather around the little plane, shouting greetings to the Pilot. Mail Day is quite the social event around here. If you need a familiar face, or just a face other than your own (I’m always surprised by how many people I still don’t know at Mail), Mail is the place to go. Twice a week (ideally) there you are, amongst what feels like a bustling town (let’s use bustling lightly, shall we). The most people I’ve ever seen at mail was the coldest day we’ve had here: 10 people at 30 plus below zero. That was a crowd! Mail was sorted in no time.

Sorted?

Yep.

Remember how there’s no one roaming the woods to deliver the mail? Well there certainly isn’t someone to sort it either

 

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Ooooo! We got one!

 

And so, after the mail is hauled off the plane and everyone grabs a pile to sort and plays bundled up bumper cars with one another as they try to get the mail to its rightful destination and people admire the different packages coming in and call out “Which box is Garrity?” and someone (or a few someones) answer(s) “#62B” and the piles get smaller and the boxes get fuller…well then, mail is done.

Someone watches everyone shuffle out and calls last call for the heater before they switch it off and shut the door. There’s no lock, no key. It’s the people’s place. Soon, everyone starts to pack up their packages and mail into whatever receptacle they carry them home in. Some people haul their treasures behind them as they ski all the way home (I’m always impressed by one woman in particular, she lives out past our house and does the long slog back and forth). Some ride bikes. Some walk. Some drive snow machines with boxes and sleds for goodies and still others drive from farther out. And just like that, it’s over

 

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The mountains behind Mail

 

It’s like a big birthday party, everyone is there and then…no cake. Party’s over.

Or is it?

Because despite the dwindling crowd, you still get to go home with your bounty. Our bounty usually includes bills, Costco magazines and lots of mail for the Fire Department.

Yippee!

But sometimes, that yippee drops its sarcastic undertones (those weren’t serving it anyways, right?) and becomes its true yelping self.

Real mail!

Now, on occasion, the package is from none other than yours truly. Oh, you shouldn’t have! With the advent of Amazon, ordering a self-addressed care package is a little easier but there are still so many things that won’t even ship to Alaska and still fewer that will ship to our little P.O. box so the world-wide web of wonder really can still be quite limited. And besides, since we find ourselves in the middle of Winter on a middle of Winter budget, ordering treats just doesn’t really happen very often.

Which makes real mail that much more special.

Chocolate?! Homemade cookies?! Special doggie treats for Lou-Lou?! A card just to say “hello”?!

This is what mail magic is made of. The scarcity of the woods makes even the littlest thing unbelievably special. When I think of the journey a simple note had to make to get to us, I’m humbled. It brings those whom I love closer. They enter my home with their letters even if their feet have never set foot on Alaskan tundra. They make our home truly ours as their drawings are hung to see and their chocolate is consumed slowly – savoring each piece (this is a big change for me). It keeps my far away family close and keeps traditions going.

 

Back in California, my Mom and I do the local paper’s crossword together every morning.

Actually, let me rephrase that:

Every morning, my Mom makes a copy of the crossword for me. Then does the crossword herself, waiting for me to wake up and follow suit. It’s a tradition that I love, that we started a long time ago but only recently perfected before my first Winter in Alaska.

Now, since she can’t leave a copy for me on the dining room table, she sends me installations. Sometimes I get behind and then do a week’s worth in one sitting and sometimes I do them every morning. I have a backlog for long flights and lazy days but I keep doing the new ones when I get them because each time I open one, I feel the time she put into it. I can see her going to the copier and folding the paper just so. I can see her driving to the Post Office and talking about her daughter in Alaska to whom she has to get a special package. I love these thoughts and images and the memories they bring up with them.

When I first decided to come to Alaska, I didn’t realize just how far out I was going. I never even thought about the mail situation because despite never seeing a mailbox, it didn’t occur to me that mail flew in. Plus, I wasn’t staying, right?

It’s almost two years later and it seems that, in fact, I am staying. I’m staying in a place at the end of 60 miles of dirt road which is now 60 miles of ice (thanks, rainstorm). I live in a place where there’s no running water or guaranteed electricity, where washing my clothes takes two days and where we send in blank checks or clearly too much money to the Postmaster because there’s no Post Office to tell us how much a package will cost to send (the Postmaster then fills out the check or sends us our change in the form of stamps). I live in this place and it still tickles me to realize that this very non-normal place has become my new norm.

 

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It’s a place that has brought me back to simple pleasures and childhood excitements. When I look at the clouds, I see animals and faces again instead of simply puffs of white. I enjoy the special treat of a chocolate bar and… I write and receive letters (and some super stellar care packages) again. People always say this place is like adult summer camp and it’s times like this when I couldn’t agree more.

So if you’re so inclined, I encourage you to send someone a letter or a package. It doesn’t have to be much. A little goes a long way. I can guarantee they won’t be disappointed and I bet you’ll feel pretty darn good about it too.

May your mail be speedy and full of real mail.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

 

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P.S. Thank you to those steady soldiers who show up to Mail every Mail Day and sort for the town. I appreciate you.

 

 

 

Back to Basics (and Buckets)

One week ago I was returning home from a walk with Lou when I noticed The Chief underneath the house.

Peekaboo?

As I approached him I could tell that this trip below the deck, in particular, was an ominous one at best. I slid down the little hill like a penguin on my bum  to meet him and noticed our tea kettle sitting next to him on the frozen ground. Steam surrounded him. In his hand he was holding a pipe.

A very important pipe.

The pipe that insured that the water inside the house would go outside the house.

You see, until a week ago, we had indoor plumbing.

Well, sort of.

We lived in an only Slightly Dry cabin.

No, I’m not talking about a Slightly Dry Cabin like a meant-to-be-dry-but-there-are-ways-around-it dry county or a Dry Cabin with a slightly leaky roof or even a Dry Cabin with a damp draft dismally descending upon us.

Nope.

Slightly Dry.

Until last week.

Now, we are edging towards a Dry Cabin. Not as dry as some. Not as dry as the desert perhaps, but dryer than before, like we started. Back to basics. Back to buckets.

O.K. what in the world am I talking about? Dry, Slightly Dry? It sounds like a deodorant commercial or a martini order.

Let’s define our terms, shall we? Mind you, these definitions are my own (move over OED), and just like how every house out here is different, every person might have their own idea of what dry means. But for our house and as I see it, my definition of a Dry Cabin goes like so:

No indoor running water. No toilet, no shower, no faucet. No, no, no.

O.K. that’s direct but just too basic. Let’s dig in deeper.

Dry cabins come in all different variations and there is definitely a range of “Dry” but the overarching theme and the starting point is a lack of indoor plumbing. Because we choose to reside in the boonies, we don’t simply call up the city and turn on the waterworks. There is no city to call, no water to be tapped into. That goes for everyone out here.

Our cabin has no indoor to outdoor plumbing (now) to speak of which means that every drop of water that we use or consume we have to haul not only into the house but out of the house, in some fashion or another.

Every drop.

When I lived in California, the state was in a drought. We conserved water. We collected rainwater to flush the toilet and we turned the faucet off in between rinsing dishes. We were conscious but despite this consciousness towards using less I was completely unconscious of how much water I still used.

Now, I know. I can account for every bit of water I use as I can actually see the levels dropping on the water buckets we haul into our house. From brushing my teeth to putting a kettle on, never do I use water without first having to retrieve it, either from its source (our well) or from a reservoir in our house. It’s a strange thing to realize that my whole life, I’ve had water on demand and now, it demands that I come to collect it.

And so, we haul our water into our Slightly Dry cabin that has become a little dryer as of late.

So what is the range? A completely Dry Cabin has absolutely no running water. Water is hauled from a local spring or a well outside (which we are lucky enough to have on our property, saving us hours of hauling time) and stored in buckets inside (outside they would turn to popsicles, but not the delicious kind).

Completely dry cabins may not even have a sink but use wash basins instead in which dishes are done and hands are washed over. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone to a friend’s house that has no running water and we’ve shared the duty of watering one another meaning: My hands are soapy. Would you mind pouring water from that pitcher over them so I can enjoy the luxury of rinsing both hands at once? When solo there’s also the balancing act of tipping your water jug over a basin while holding it in place with your shoulder in order to free your hands to wash both at once.

To build upon this ingenuity and make things a little easier, people come up with adaptations. The foot pump is one of my favorite. It’s a little ball on the ground (like a doctor’s squeeze ball used to inflate the arm band to take your pulse) which you step on to pump a spurt of water out of the faucet. It may sound time-consuming and it is, but it’s pure luxury when you’re used to nothing at all. The next option is a faucet and sink with a pump. The pump gets turned on when the faucet is turned on and sends water from a nearby reservoir (say, under the sink, ours is an 8 gallon Igloo cooler) up and out the faucet head. The water then goes right back down the drain into an attached pipe which drains into what is aptly named The Slop Bucket (paints a pretty picture, huh?) which is also nearby (ours is sidled up next to the cooler under the sink).

 

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Back in the day when I first moved in.

 

The Slop Bucket has to be emptied quite often in order to insure that all your lovely goodness that goes down the drain doesn’t overflow onto your floor. Mmmm toothpaste and dishwater and everything else you put down the drain surprise all over the floor? Yum. This can be tough to remember when you wake up first thing in the morning to brush your teeth. Still groggy and half asleep you slowly come to and hear the pitch of the draining water change (living out here is a lot of listening I’ve learned) and suddenly you come to and realize you’re about to have an overflow. Yippee! Oh, and even if you can congratulate yourself for not overflowing it (this morning) you still have to be careful not to overfill it because, well, you’re still going to have to carry it outside and without a lid, that can be quite the feat.

But not at our house. Nope. The days of The Slop Bucket were over because…(cue the celebratory music. “Eye of the Tiger”, anyone?)

We had a French Drain.

Adding “French” to anything really makes it sound fancy, doesn’t it? And it was.

French toast. (So much better than regular toast)

French fry. (How did I fried potato suddenly sound like its wearing a tuxedo?)

French drain. (How is it even still a drain? It sounds too fancy for the likes of that.)

So what is a French Drain? Well, our version consisted of a 55 gallon drum with the bottom cut off placed into a deep hole in the ground (no small feat. Digging in Alaska is a challenge at best), insulated, covered and connected to the house via piping that attached to the sink inside through a hole in the floor that was then sealed with lots of spray foam to keep the cold out. The water from the sink would then ideally drain into the drum and slowly seep into the ground.

The Fall before The Chief left to meet me in California he had one goal in mind: no more Slop Buckets and so the French Drain idea went into action.

Personally, I didn’t mind the Slop Bucket all that much. Sure, it was a pain. Sure, the Ramp of Doom made it a bit tricky. But hey, I was in the woods now. I could handle it. Right?

In truth, I probably didn’t realize how often the Bucket went out because in my new love haze I was slow to see all the work that surrounded me. I thought I saw it but in reality, The Chief probably chivalrously swept a lot of it away before I noticed. And so, the first time I hauled water up the Ramp of Doom in the Winter I thanked my lucky stars (and The Chief) for making his Drain goal come true. A slop bucket in the middle of winter on the snowy, slippery slope of our Ramp would have been no fun at all and given my propensity for falling down it, wearing the slop would have made it less than no fun at all (anti-fun?). And so we spent the Winter doing dishes and brushing our teeth without having to constantly check The Bucket’s level. The Drain chugged away without incident and we sat in our slightly less dry cabin looking back fondly on (yet with no intent of returning to) the time so long ago when we had to haul The Slop.

That was last Winter. It was “warm”. The coldest temperature we saw was 22 below zero, which to me seemed pretty brrr-brrr cold but alas, I was mistaken.

 

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I was pretty sure this was pretty cold but sunny at 22 below doesn’t hold a candle to grey at 35 below.

 

Enter: this year.

Just a smidge colder.

In the first stint of 35 below this Winter we realized quickly that we would have to baby The Drain a bit more. We came about this realization after awakening to a list of chores that were quickly put on the back-burner when the drain stopped draining. We listened. No movement. This is bad.

We spent the first half of a day under the house, disconnecting the pipes, bringing them in to defrost, cutting away a portion outside that would not defrost, sending boiling water down the drain via our tea kettle, reconnecting the pipes (which thankfully The Chief had made long enough to still be able to trim in this situation without losing the pipe completely) and finally, getting back to our planned chores.

Phew! That was close.

From then on, we babied the Drain. Every morning, before anything else, we boiled hot water to pour down the drain to clear any buildup from the night (we later realized that the sink was leaking, ever so slightly throughout the night, causing potential blockages so we had to unhook the connections for the pump every night and put a bowl under the faucet in case it still leaked from built up pressure). We constantly had an ear to the drain, listening for the specific sound that meant water was flowing. We watched it like new parents but on it continued.

Until that day, one week ago when I came home.

Since we had once before remedied the situation I didn’t panic upon seeing The Chief under the house. That was, until I saw the pipe on the ground and the exasperated look on his face. The blockage wasn’t in the pipe.

 

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Where the pipe came out of the house.

 

 

It was below.

 

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The pipe down into the earth and drum below. All ice.

 

To this day we still don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe the drum wasn’t far enough below the frost line and everything inside the barrel froze during one of the extended cold spells. Maybe we hadn’t been as meticulous as we thought.

Who knows?

All I know is that we are back to basics and back to buckets.

I guess the Spring will tell us all we need to know about what happened now. Until then, I’ll be working on navigating the stairs with a swishing, sloshing bucket of Slop without falling.

 

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The latest shot of the Ramp of Doom…getting doomier with every drop of rain.

 

And you know what? I’ve kind of enjoyed it. Well, now that I’ve gotten back in the game. It didn’t affect me at first since The Chief took over most of the hauling since my neck was still delicate. But since I’ve embarked upon the Slop duty, I’ve been kind of glad to get back to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a bucket that actually had a lid so it didn’t threaten to paint me sloppy every time I transported it outside but we didn’t have one (the two five gallon buckets with lids are for hauling drinking water and we were not giving one of those up). And I’d love to not have to bring it outside twice a day or more on Dish Days. And I’d love it if the color of the Slop was a glittery gold instead of…ewww. And I don’t love it in the moment. But overall, I’m O.K. with it.

The French Drain was a fancy endeavor and one that made me feel very lucky. Yet going back to basics has put me back in touch again with what I’m using and where it’s going. And still, all around me, I see dryer cabins than our Slightly Dryer Now Slightly Dry Cabin. We have running water, an indoor shower (non-permanent and we bathe into a tote, no plumbing there) and an outhouse (two actually, here is the old outhouse, turned library. Seriously).

 

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Our needs are met as long as we meet the demands of our needs. Sure, there are the days when we get home from a big adventure or a dinner at a friend’s house and realize: shoot, we didn’t pump water before we went and well, it kind of stinks because…

When that happens it’s usually the perfect storm. It’s usually 30 below and the well pump won’t start and we have to warm the generator for an hour to get it going when all we really want to do is sit down and eventually after the generator warms and the pump starts and after 5 trips inside each to fill all the reservoirs (shower, under the sink, the pot on the stove and finally the buckets) and a couple spills and a couple close calls on the Ramp…we are done.

And it could have been a lot harder.

Nowadays, when I go to Town, I have to remind myself to turn on the hot water at the sink because I’m so used to always having cold water come out. I have to remember to use the dishwasher because I’m so used to waiting for the water on the stove to heat up so I can do dishes. I have to stop and appreciate the beauty of a shower uninterrupted by scalding hot and freezing cold flashes of a sputtering water heater. And now, when I am home, I stop to appreciate what we had, what we will likely have again and what we still have.

Thank you Alaska for constantly keeping things in perspective, whether we like it or not.

Cheers to the good life, however that looks to you.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

A Little (Mozzarella) Cheesy, But A Lotta True

You know when a friend is coming home from a long stint away and you go over to their house to make sure it’s warm for them before they return?

Nope, me neither. Not before now, at least.

Before moving to the snowy cold of The North I’d certainly helped with the houses of friends but that normally meant giving it a good scrub down, putting a few extras in the fridge and bringing in the mail. And that was if I was house sitting for them. I’d always leave a note and if I had time I’d put some flowers from their garden into a vase. It made me feel good to welcome someone home to a cozy house with a few extra creature comforts to come back to but in sunny California, heat was typically the last perk on my mind.

But not here. Here, flowers would be the magic trick to trump all magic tricks (one time a bouquet of a dozen pink roses flew in on the mail plane and I swear, every person there just stopped, jaws open, staring at the 12 little miracles. Thankfully, someone snapped us all out of it in time to get the roses into a warm car before they starting to freeze). In California, flowers were the icing on the unexpected cake. But here, I didn’t even know the recipe. How does one welcome a friend home in the middle of Winter in the middle of nowhere Alaska?

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, chances are you’ve encountered the Walk-In, a large refrigerator big enough to house you and a gaggle of friends for a cocktail party. In the middle of service, especially during a crazed rush, it was the perfect place to cool down for a minute, gather some thoughts (and some celery or whatnot for the chefs) and head back into the mayhem feeling a bit more refreshed. Too long and it would get chilly. A few minutes was plenty.

If you’ve ever lived in Alaska, chances are you know exactly the feeling I’m talking about, even if you’ve never worked in a restaurant because I’d bet that you have walked into a frozen house at some point. You know the cold that doesn’t seem that bad at first and then…it starts biting into you, nibble by nibble until your fingers feel hot because they are instead so cold? A frozen house is like a Walk In but of the freezer variety instead of a refrigerator.

You see, when we leave our houses (those of us who leave, that is) the houses, like the whole rest of the landscape around them, freeze.

Completely.

They become little iceboxes of a life preserved, like a house coated in amber but instead, everything is ice. Upon returning from your travels or visits, this little frozen life is awaiting you and it takes hours and hours to defrost. Hours during which you wait in full-winter gear from Parka to 50 below boots and busy yourself moving things inside from your vehicle outside in an attempt to stay warm.

That is, unless you have a good friend and good timing and oh buddy, are you glad when you have both.

We were lucky enough to have both on our way in this year and our chilly selves (from our non-functioning car heater) were beyond grateful to walk into a house that was warmer than the great frosty outdoors.

And so, when the call comes, you return the favor. It may not be returned directly to those who first helped you but it is returned to the great cycle of favors that revolves and evolves around here. A little cosmic karma, if you will.

Well, that call came twofold and right, as fate would have it, in the middle of weeks of 30 to 35 below zero temperatures.

 

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I hadn’t even made it past our driveway and already, everything went white.

 

My girlfriend who had been out-of-town for work (much to my chagrin) called the whole week prior, and together we watched as her departure date approached and the temps dropped and dropped and dropped. In the middle of the cold spell we’d had a “warm” snap and she’d just missed the window. In an effort to get her home as soon as possible (ex-squeeze me but I live in the woods where boys abound and women are hard to find. I need all the ladies I can get) I told her that no matter the temps, I’d be there to heat her house if it meant she’d come home sooner.

My offer helped soften the blow of driving in 30 below temps and the day finally arrived when she was (thankfully) headed home. The Chief and I had planned ahead and brought the generator inside the night before. We awoke to the thermometer reading 33 below zero and so we immediately headed outside to warm the snowmachine by powering a heater with the generator. It would need an hour minimum (if we were being nice to it) to warm before we could leave.

Two hours later, last stops stopped and all loose ends tidied up, my girlfriend gave us the green light. She was headed our way and with a four plus hour drive ahead of her it was time for us to drive her way and warm the house. Thankfully, she lived in a valley on the other side of The River and her temperatures often read warmer than ours. Maybe we’d even hit the 20 belows.

Just as we were starting to suit up to depart, my phone rang. We’d been expecting another friend to be coming into the area soon but hadn’t heard from him about his exact dates. People had been driving through his property to break trail (another thing I never even fathomed before living here: duh, of course. When you arrive home after being absent for months, no one has been on your property. There isn’t a trail in sight. Every time you want to walk or drive somewhere you end up hip-deep in snow. So when someone offers to buzz by your place and put in a few trails so you can wade in more freely, you say “yes, thank you”) for a few weeks so we knew he was close but we still didn’t know when he’d arrive.

Well, as circumstance would have it, he was calling from about 250 miles away. He was heading home.

Tomorrow.

Hmm…my little wheels got to turning. Today would be a full-day of heating, which was great. It felt important and honest and good. Two days of heating houses on the other side of the river? Still important and honest and good, but not as good, right? Let’s multi-task this house heating. And so, without thinking I blurted: “Wanna come in tonight?”

Being the badass that he is, he took little more than a look at his old plan and said: “Yes. Of course. I mean we’ve driven this far, what’s a bit of a haul for the last leg?”

Perfect.

And so, with that, The Chief and Julia’s Heating Service was started. Business was booming.

Just kidding.

Both of our friends’ excitement and gratitude had me fired up. It feels so good to do something for someone else and any time you can make life a little easier for your fellow woods dweller out here, you do it.

And so, we were on our way.

We finished suiting up as we talked out our game plan.

Her house first, then his house, then back and forth for the rest of the day until they arrived. Pack a lot of food for a potentially really long day (even if they were leaving, things happen and fingers crossed everything went smoothly but with one of their cars already acting squirrely, anything could happen). Layers upon layers upon layers and extra clothes for a ski.

Yea, we planned on a ski. Pretty cute, huh?

 

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My skis, your skis and a groomer for making trails. We were outfitted, finally.

 

We got to the first house and the thermometer  inside was so cold that all it said was LO. In computer talk I’m pretty sure that means “Geeeeez! What, are you trying to kill me??”

 

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At least it was only -23 outside though! We set to making a fire. Almost. There was wood a plenty and burnables nearby but since my girlfriend had left at the start of the cold-snap she hadn’t been able to clean out the stove before leaving (it had been too cold to let a fire die, even for a few hours and embers take forever to cool). The stove had ash to be removed first (The Chief is a meticulous fire maker, me on the other hand? I’m more of a cowgirl, fly by the seat of your pants type approach) and so we set to find a receptacle. 20 minutes later, cleaned and ready, The Chief had the stove blazing. We dusted ourselves off and…we were off!

At the next house, we broke trail in from the back entrance, paralleling the air field along the way. We arrived again to a ready bin full of wood and burnables (it’s always smart to leave a good set-up if someone is coming to build a fire. You wouldn’t want them to mistakenly burn say, your tax returns. These two were seasoned pros) and The Chief set to work. Since this friend had left in the Fall, the stove was all ready to go and pretty soon the tanker of a stove was chugging along.

It’s a funny thing going into someone’s house in the dead of Winter, especially when it hasn’t been opened back up since the season before. It’s just been sitting and freezing. Everything has a sheen of ice crystals and immediately, you’re scanning for accidents: was there water in any glass that perhaps exploded? Is everything which can’t heat quickly (think kerosene lamp) far enough away from the fire so it won’t break from the temperature shift? And then you start admiring their shut-down techniques. Boards on the windows or coverings over the bed or how their woodpile is organized. One can’t help but pick up tips along the way.

With both houses chugging along, the most important part now was to keep them going. Oh and to not burn their houses down. Yes, this seems like an obvious one and an easy one but out here fire is both something we absolutely need and something we undoubtedly must have respect for. A stove that gets too hot can set fire to itself and with that, the cabin. Plus, every stove is different. Sure, the overarching idea of “shutting it down” (dampening the fire once it’s gotten going to make it burn hot and steady) is the same but every stove has its own little tricks and quirks and when you’re trying to get from frozen to comfortable in hours, you don’t have the luxury of courting time with each stove.

Heat needs to happen now and so you make sure to watch the stove for as long as possible before heading off to the next house.

And so we did, all day long. Back and forth and forth and back we went. Vigilant to lock all the hatches and triple check the stove doors. A few hours in, both stoves cranking away and the temperatures of the houses slowly thawing, we thought about water. Water is essential to every life and out here, it’s especially hard to come by. Both of the friends get water from the same nearby creek and so once we found their water buckets, we headed down to the creek to fill them.

 

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Fill ‘er up, buttercup.

 

Water in your house here is like flowers in your house in the lower 48, except functional. Having water to get you through the night and the following day, to make your long list of chores just a little bit shorter is huge and since none of us have running water, I could appreciate how much this little act would ease their transitions home.

 

 

 

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All buckled up and ready to go

 

Finally, a few trips more and the first bird to return to the coop called. We met my girlfriend at the airstrip with her sled and after shrieky, bouncy, elated “Hellos”, we started unloading her truck. Three sled loads later, each time with us packed like three little ducks riding in a row on the snowmachine, and her truck was unloaded. One last trip to park the truck (since no vehicle can make it down her driveway with any hope of making it back up again) and back to her house and she had finally “arrived” an hour after she had first pulled up. Home again.

She was over the moon to walk into a warm house that even had, wait for it, water! 5 gallons of My Day Just Got Easier. We celebrated and caught up while The Chief made one last trip to our other friend’s house. They had called to say they were at the last stretch of The Road, they’d be home in an hour. 30 minutes later, The Chief returned we all three celebrated. What a day! We’d been back and forth so many times it would make my head spin to recount it, wearing our heaviest gear to stave off the cold of the day’s 20 to 30 plus below weather. We’d successfully heated and watered two houses (and I had successfully realigned my back after falling straight onto my knee with a huge armload of wood. Oh joy. I swear I heard every vertebrae snap, crackle and pop. Owwwwwww) and our friends were home. So despite any bumps and bruises the reunion trumped all.

Every time someone comes home, our little family here is shifted and changed. A new infusion, new life to our day-to-day and it changes everyone, even if just a little bit.

An hour later, I got a text from our other friend saying that they’d stopped on The Road to visit with one of our friends farther out. It’s a funny thing, the coming and going along the 60 miles of road. There rarely is a time when we haven’t stopped, at least for a bit, to see a good friend we don’t normally see. When it takes 30 minutes just to go 3 miles across the river for a visit, it’s even more unlikely to travel 20 miles for one and so, on the way in or out when you can, you stop to see those you won’t see until the rivers break and the fireweed returns and we all convene back in Town. With that being said, we knew he would no longer be home within the hour and so The Chief headed out again to stoke the fire one last time.

He returned to my girlfriend’s house where we had already broken into her stash. This is the best conundrum of every return: what to eat first? It’s always random and never what you’d think and this time was no different: mozzarella cheese.

When you live in the middle of nowhere and new infusions of food are far and few between, it’s funny the things that sound mouth-wateringly delightful and that night, we all agreed on the cheese. Before long, half the block was gone (along with a solid dent in some tortilla chips and warming whiskey) and it was clear that our other friends would be out past our bedtime. After spending a day almost completely outside (since their houses didn’t start to warm up until early evening and even at that, they were still only 50 degrees, though still a complete respite from the biting cold outside) our bodies were ready to rest.

 

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A little cloud of exhale while eating a snack

 

And so, we headed home and what did we return to?

Well, a warm house.

The house wasn’t warm because we had built a fire that would outlast the day. Even the most amazing fire wouldn’t have been able to hold tight through 8 hours of cold knocking on the door. No, we returned to a warm house because while we were away, our neighbors had been coming by every few hours to throw a log on (or two, and to pet or let in or out our Miss Cinda Lou).

The karma loop continues.

It wasn’t just us that day that heated those houses. It was all of us. Our neighbors and us and every neighbor before them that checked on their house while they were away for the day. When life breaks down to food, shelter and warmth it becoming obvious what is important. Sure, our friends could have returned to cold houses, people have done it forever and still do it all the time. Or we could have spent the day away and returned to a 30 degree house. It’s happened, it happens. But none of us did. We all kept warm because of one another and not to be too (mozzarella) cheesy, but that’s the kind of thing that is the answer to the question I so often get: “Why in the world would you want to live all the way out there?”

Why? Because in a place where you have to be able to rely upon yourself, it’s that much better when you get a little help from your friends.

Cheers to flowers and fires for friends. Sure, we can all do it on our own but what’s the point? Be a friend in need of a warm house or a warm hug, this is what we are here for.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

The Peek-a-Blues

Of the many questions I’ve gotten about living in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, one of the top questions/statements is:

“How do you handle the weather? It must be so gloomy and dark. I could never live there.”

And honestly, as many times as I cheerily answered with “I’m sure it will be great!” and “Yea, but we have the Northern Lights!” and other exclamation filled rebuttals, I really had no idea what I was getting into. My true answers would have been:

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the weather.

“I think it is.”

and

“I hope I can.”

Growing up, my Mom had these bright lights installed in her bedroom. She would climb on top of her bed, (she had one of those amazingly comfortable yet still Princess in the Pea style tall, big beds that my girlfriends and I would always sneak into and cozy up in) close her eyes and turn on the lights.

Boom!

They would blast her with light meant to emulate the rays of the sun.

In California, Winter isn’t harsh in the sense of blistering cold and snowstorms and icy sidewalks. It’s harsh though in a more subtle way. We often were stranded without power for days on end during storm season and we rarely saw the sun until the storm passed through. Sometimes it would be a month before I’d see that ‘ol vitamin D provider and simply seeing that shine would remind me how much I had missed it. And so, when the storms hit and the skies clouded up and stayed grey for weeks on end, my Mama found her relief in her sunbed of sorts.

It was her happy place.

Me on the other hand, I never did the lights. I’m one of those, yes there’s a beautiful bathtub and I’m stressed to no end and someone is offering to fill it for me and still…no. No thank you. I’ll be just fine over here, just barely bearing the weight of my little world.

Well, at least I used to be like that. Now, I’m more open to relaxation and even a little more open to help from others and to helping myself.

And so, as we approached our departure date for my first Winter in Alaska and these statements (“I could never handle the dark”) kept piling on and on until I felt I was buried in a ball pit like a kid at Chuck E Cheese and I started to panic.

What if it was the most depressing place I’d ever been? What if I never saw the sun? What if I completely abandoned a schedule and ran around like a rabid animal, unaware of the day or time or place I found myself in?

Enter: La Mama.

She had the perfect solution for my fretting self: the sunlamps.

However, despite my efforts to more readily accept help, I still couldn’t budge in this arena.

I never used the lights anyways.

“Right, because you would never accept help or lay down long enough to feel their effects.”

Nonsense. Utter hullabaloo. I could do this by myself.

And so, I refused to buy the lights myself or to let my mother buy me the lights, despite her many crafty attempts to do so.

“Oh, how weird, we just happened to stop in this store together and they carry those sunlights you were talking about, Julia!”

My Mama’s never been very swift on the lies, a trait that makes us both laugh a lot and one which most definitely trickled down to me.

But no, I couldn’t be fooled. I was heading into the dark without so much as a headlamp (thankfully, the sweet guys at SBS gifted me one). I could do this on my own.

But you see, here’s the thing about the sun in Alaska, huddle closer now: she is her own. She does what she wants and because of that, she seems like that elusive person you always see at that one bookstore that feels so mysterious and obviously way cooler than you are and that you one day ask on a date and they end up to simply be a human being, just like you.

Weird, huh?

Of course, I only know that now in retrospect. Last Winter I spent my days sun chasing and when she was nowhere to be found, I felt it (or so I thought). She would peek-out for a moment and then hide away the rest of the day and I would consider her to be elusive and take it as a personal affront and then I would feel it: The Peek-a-Blues.

 

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Up for a moment, only to be engulfed by that cloud beneath minutes later

 

I did everything I was supposed to do in such conditions: I got “out”  (went for a walk or a ski or a something to be out in nature and to hopefully catch a few rays) everyday. I made sure to take my vitamins daily (a feat I’ve never been able to conquer in my life) and was even more utterly diligent with my Vitamin D (they were gummy chewables, kind of the perfect kid-like complement to my stoic attempt at adulthood). But still, at times I felt a little blue.

And so, my lifelines were my sunshine substitutes. Along with my get “out” and vitamin regiment I talked to my girlfriends and my mother almost daily. Some days I had to have a little cry (or a big one) and sometimes we only seemed to laugh. I kept busy, preserving food, revisiting old exercise routines I hadn’t had time for in years and even did my best to sit still long enough to pass it off as meditation.

 

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Yoga Jones. Put the mat down, turn away for a moment, return to dog on mat (not willing to budge).

 

I was so zen.

In reality, I was alone. A lot.

 

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Well, I did have Miss Lou. That helped a lot.

It’s not that The Chief wasn’t present in his heart, it’s that he was absent in body. He worked construction on the restaurant I came to work in during the Summer for almost the entire duration of Winter and throughout its near entirety he was very sick. In the attempt to get the restaurant open they worked almost every day. Twenty below? Bring extra coffee. We are doing this. I was both thoroughly impressed by them and thoroughly depressed by my own seemingly smaller achievements. Every morning I would kiss The Chief goodbye and as the door closed behind him, the little panic would start. The Peek-a-Blues.

What to do?

What to do?

The simple thing about Alaska, or at least living in the middle of nowhere in Alaska is that she answers this howling call tenfold with demands.

Chop some wood. Build a fire. Defrost the generator. Wash the dishes. Start dinner. Do some laundry. Organize the Bachelor Pad into Our House. Organize the recycling. Mend your clothes.

There was a never-ending laundry list (upon which laundry always had a place) of things to do and things that needed to be done but all of it seemed so small. I wanted to do more than the inside and light outside chores. I wanted to be the one who brought down a tree by myself and presented it to The Chief proudly like a cat brings its owner a mouse. I wanted to build shelves while he was away and see the surprise on his face when he came home. There was so much I didn’t know how to do and what I did know felt unimportant.

On some days, that feeling didn’t bother me, but on the third day of overcast, not snowing and not doing anything other than inciting a dismal feeling in me, on those days, it got to me.

And I would think of the lights.

Maybe I had been too stubborn. Maybe I needed them after all. And so I would call on my lights: my Mama and my girlfriends and they would somehow part the dismal sky.

This year I still can’t take a tree down by myself. I still don’t know how to build shelves. When the snowmachine has been sitting at 30 below plus temperatures for a week I still have a very hard/potentially unsuccessful time starting it. I still can’t do what The Chief can do out here but you know what? I can do more than I could last year.

No longer is chopping wood an expletive-fest for me, instead I see what The Chief was talking about when he said you get lost in the motion. Last year it was all sweat and swearing when I just couldn’t get a log to budge. Now I look at the weather and pick my logs accordingly and if I still can’t get through? I leave it for a colder day when wood snaps apart like a Kit-Kat and the axe moves through it like soft butter. No longer is driving the snowmachine as difficult. I know how to move my body to better move the machine, I’ve found my riding stance (a very strange sidesaddle-esque approach that my body somehow came up with and which fits me like a glove), even if it is a little odd and I’ve crossed the creeks I rode solely across as a passenger last year.

And you know what? I’ve been slacking. We’ve been here a month and I’ve only recently started taking a Multi-Vitamin. I consistently forget the Vitamin D and although I get outside almost every day, I’m not so stringent as I was before. I listen to my body (most of the time).

Oh, and another You Know What? It’s been a much greyer Winter this year.

And the last You Know What? It’s been blue skies and sunshine in my head. Well, more of the time at least, especially despite the dismal array of cloudy days.

 

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Looks like a black and white photo. Isn’t. Dreary skies in a beautiful land.

 

When I lived in Italy (a land that was and will always be one of my favorite places on Earth) and I ate fresh pasta and drank local wine and consumed gelato every day and still didn’t gain a pound and where I was surrounded by some of the best art the world has produced and entrenched in a language and a lifestyle that encourages a rich life and love of it…still, I felt blue.

The sun shone almost every day I was there.

And so last year, despite all the happiness of brand spankin’ new love and a new lease on life and an awaiting adventure, still I felt a little blue. And, forgetting my time in Italy, I worried it was the sun.

It’s not so much about where you are but where you’re at and it’s not just whether the sun is where you are but if sun is within to follow where you go.

Last year I was overwhelmed by the new-ness. I hardly knew anyone that was here, I knew little about the life I was embarking upon and had a stiff learning curve just to stay afloat but I looked outward for the reason why.

The sun, or lack thereof. That was it. It had to be.

It wasn’t. And it still isn’t. Don’t get me wrong. These dreary days we’ve had of late with sun-less skies of grey can be daunting or they can be an invitation: overcast might mean warmer temperatures which means more time outside before turning into a popsicle. Or, a dreary day could just be the perfect excuse you need for a movie day and some down time. Or, perhaps, it could be a day to feel a little blue, if that’s what you need to do.

I’m not saying lack of sun is a good thing. Some people are gravely affected by its shyness. I saw how happy it made my Mama to lie in that bed with the rays surrounding her and I saw later how it helped her find her inner sunshine in the days of grey. I’ve felt myself open like a bloom to the rays, not knowing I had been bundled into a bud.

But the sun isn’t the only thing to decipher how we feel.

At the time I wrote this, late last week, I had just completed a week of work that made me feel successful, I had been to a good friend’s birthday party and seen people I loved and I had also hit my head hard enough to throw my neck out (from falling down the Ramp of Doom to hitting my head to missing stairs down from our loft, I seem to be clumsy. Who knew?) I wrote from the comfy coziness of home. I was happy, in a way, to have an excuse to do nothing and sure enough, it was grey, grey, grey outside. I felt at peace as I have most of this Winter which is in stark contrast to the ups and downs of last year.

Fast forward to yesterday, a showing of sunshine we hadn’t seen in weeks and there I was, still grounded by pain. Day 3 on the couch. This day at least I could get out of bed without it taking 15 minutes of propping myself up and alligator rolling my way out so as not to use my neck. But I’ll be honest, I didn’t really feel that sunshine in my heart. And I know it’s there. I yearned for my independence that my body could no longer provide. I couldn’t haul water or chop wood or drive or ski and walking was excruciating. I was the anti-independent Level I (the Levels go up to the umpteenth but still, I’m progressing) I’ve grown accustomed to being. There were projects I wanted to do and my second attempt of an online Pilates challenge laughed in my face. I was three days from finally completing it (again, it was the second time I’m attempted it now). I needed to see a girlfriend and laugh it off or just get outside of the tiny realm of reality I had been encased in but my body couldn’t take me there. I felt desperately restless.

 

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Oh, Alaska. She must have heard me typing last week and decided to send me a lesson. And it was a good lesson. Sun or no sun, more lessons learned versus less, I am not immune to the Peak-a-Blues. I was a teary eyed mess of pent-up energy (I’m someone who needs at least an hour and preferably multiple hours outside in order to spend the rest inside). Thankfully, The Chief and I were eventually able to giggle a bit at my sobby display and extra thankfully, a friend stopped by and infused my ouch routine with something new. Still I felt the Peek-a-Blues lingering in the form of a restless Poor Me but they were softening.

They always say in Alaska “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes” because something is always changing. Clouds come in and the sun disappears and it starts to snow and the temperature goes from 30 below to 30 above in 24 hours. It’s a whirlwind sometimes and so, one has to keep hold of their sunshine and lasso it back when it tries to go.

“I could never live there” still resonates in my head and I’m so glad I pushed through to see if I could. And I can. There are ups and downs just like anywhere. Happiness on the cloudiest of days and blues on the sunniest. The joy of slowing down and the need to speed up. A lust for life and a “blah” for life. It can happen anywhere and it happens everywhere.

I’m thinking this might just be what they call Life.

Be you here or be you there, the sunshine you seek might be within.

Clearly, I’m still learning how to harness it (and occasionally getting ahead of myself at which point Alaska sends me such sweet reminders) but I can say that every year it keeps getting better and I guess that’s all we can really hope for.

That and maybe a few of those lights wouldn’t hurt either, huh Mom?

 

With love and (sometimes) sunshine,

 

From Alaska.

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If You Give This Girl a Snack…

 

…she’s still going to want a meal to go with it.

Remember that book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? My grandmother used to read it to me when I was a child and I remember feeling quite the kinship with that little mouse. He had his priorities straight. If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk. And why shouldn’t he? The simple harmony of that age-old combo makes it almost insulting not to. He was a little mouse with big food priorities and I identified with that.

As a kid, the first thing I would ask when sitting down to the dinner table, seeing my portion and assessing its size in comparison to the adults was: “Is there more?”

Little has changed. And so, as perhaps you could already tell, I am a lady who loves to eat. Hunger strikes often and I jump to action. From pancakes to pupusas, I’m a craver of all things edible and when it comes to hunger, few things can top that inner beast. She wins over most other necessities. And that’s my normal hunger level.

Winter hunger on the other hand is a whole new level.

Let the beast be unleashed.

 

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My skiing companion stopping for a frozen bunny leg snack.

 

You see, the thing is, I don’t let much stand in my way when it comes to eating. You think the kitchen is bare with only potatoes, beef and cabbage? I’ll find a way to make a Shepard’s pie with coleslaw to accompany it (we wouldn’t want the pie to get lonely now, would we?). I’ll do my best to make something out of nothing and given a plethora of materials, I might just go ahead and make a feast. Once, my brother and I, well adept in the art of imagining something from random availability, made an egg drop soup from scratch with the three things we had in our house. It was ridiculous and also delicious. Another time, neither of us had the energy to follow through on our plans to go on a hike or whatnot. The obvious solution? We went to the store and bought everything under the sun to make a complete Thanksgiving dinner.

It was the middle of Summer.

So yes, needless to say, when hunger comes my way I open the door with a grand gesture and welcome the beast to the table.

Winter hunger is a whole different kind of beast. She comes on strong and sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Your whole body is propelling you towards satisfying your most basic needs. You need heat, shelter, water and food. Simply being outside burns calories, so if you’re working outside its magnified tenfold and working can be as simple as hauling water. But, despite how basic it is, in the Winter, there always seems to be a hang-up.

The other morning, I awoke starving. The beast was knocking. I hurried downstairs, determined to make swift time with my chores in order to get to the good stuff: steel-cut oats with peaches and cream on top. Boom! All I had to do was build a fire since the house was now 40 degrees due to the weather outside producing a chilly 30 below (yes, that’s 30 degrees under zero. I still shake my head and open my eyes really wide when looking at the thermometer showing such a sight. It just doesn’t seem possible, but alas…). Well, that was all I had planned on, at least. I carefully descended the stairs, each step getting me closer as I headed to the wood stove to create a roaring fire and then a bountiful breakfast.

I arrived to a big empty spot where the firewood should have been.

O.K. no biggie.

I put a jacket on over my magenta robe and headed into the frosty morning.

“Hiyah!” the cold said as it slapped me in the face. “Take that!” it said, insulted that I would dare to venture outside so poorly clothed. I hurried to the shed and arrived coughing. That kind of cold can literally take your breath away. You inhale too fast and (*enter scientific explanation here) voila! You choke on your own breath. Pretty rude if you asked me.

I continued along and crouched down next to the pile of chopped logs, gloveless, stacking the frozen pieces in my arm which was held in a stiff 90 degree angle to support the weight.

One log, two log, three log, four

five log, six log, seven log…floor (or ground, to be more precise).

The pile tumbled out as I sloppily placed the last log. My hands were freezing and I didn’t perform the motions with the care I needed to. I was being lazy and because of that, I had to start all over again. This time I was more methodical, stacking with care instead of with a rush despite my popsicle hands. At this point the cold was seeping in and my eyelashes were freezing. Blinking my eyes was a devil’s dare as each time I opened them they would do their best to remain together, top and bottom lashes in a frosty embrace. Finally, vision impaired by the lash love and arm stacked high with frozen logs (other hand placed firmly in my jacket pocket to try to warm off some of the burning cold) I headed towards the house and was faced, as I am daily, by the Ramp of Doom (you might remember her from last year).

Last year I was learning to ski and I fell. A lot. Sometimes, the bulk of my ski was simply getting back up.

This year, I’ve gotten better. The other day, I realized that I had fallen down our ramp more times than I had fallen on my skis. Isn’t that wonderful? And so I stood at the bottom of the stairs, log arm starting to fatigue, and leaned forward, hoping my bodily trajectory and some forward momentum would see my safely through the gauntlet.

At the very top, my foot slipped on the last board and I jolted forward (propelling myself far enough to miss the gap (of course there had to be a gap at the top of the ramp between the ramp and the landing) yet not so far as to overshoot the landing. It had been a close one but I had made it. I hurried inside, dropped and then organized the logs and finally, finally, got to building our fire.

The cold was seeping in.

 

 

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When your window trinkets turn into ice bridges it’s pretty darn cold.

 

One last problem: the ashes in the fireplace needed to be emptied. Thankfully, I hadn’t taken off my (still inadequate) outdoor gear yet and so I set to emptying the ashes. Ten minutes later the stove was clean and I was exactly the opposite. My face and hands looked the likes of a smudged orphan straight out of Oliver Twist. Ah, how refreshing this morning was coming to be. Good thing we have a shower to just jump into. Oh…wait. That’s a whole other hour-long endeavor that my belly was not agreeing to. It would be a dusty breakfast. Not wanting to miss the moment of a cool and clean stove, I decided to go the extra mile and clean the glass with a homemade orange peel cleaner I had recently concocted. What a difference.

I took the ashes out into the woods and tried to throw them as far away from me as possible.

That did not happen.

My arc was off and the ashes came back at me like a little mini tornado.

Success!(?)

Now, fully ashed-up from my head to my toes, I headed back up the ramp (without fall) and into the house. I was in need of some serious face washing and a new set of clothes but not before I took the chill off the house (what are you crazy? It was too cold to take any layers off at this point. The temperature inside was still almost 70 degrees warmer than outside but our house was slowly turning into a freezer. Inside it was 38 degrees and dropping by the minute). By the time the flames were devouring the fresh wood and I had washed and (quickly) changed, an hour had passed since my ravenous self had first looked forward to breakfast. What an adventure the day had already been just to whip up a bowl of oats.

The Hour Long Oats.

That seemed excessive.

Enter: The Five Hour Pizza.

You know when you have a craving for something? I do. It’s on my mind until it’s in my belly. So, when The Chief had a hankering for some homemade pizza the other night, I wanted to support his inclination. Let’s get this guy a pizza. I was already hungry at this point and so my efforts went towards making us a snack in order to tide us over for the highly anticipated pizza while The Chief worked away at the dough.

Pizza!

The Chief loves pizza like I love my pancakes. Translation: that’s a lot.

We knew we were in for a little wait since we were making pizza from scratch and so the snack came in handy to stave off hunger for the hour ahead of us until pizza time. The Chief finished the dough and let it set to rise while we snacked away. Before long, we realized that we would need the generator. The inverter could have handled the load of the oven with the rest of the operations in the house but unfortunately, the charge in the batteries was low and therefore, needed to be charged by the generator and…

the generator was outside.

And as it would be, the weather on this night, like the day of The Hour Long Oats, was quite cold though only in the negative 20’s. Basically swimsuit weather, right?

Needless to say, it was going to take a moment for the generator to heat up enough to do its thing.

I guess the dough would reallllly get a chance to rise now.

We brought in the generator and unscrewed its cover to reveal the mechanical underbelly in need of warming, propped it up on my Make Me Taller block of wood and put it next to the wood stove.

For the next two hours, The Chief prepped the pizza bits in patient excitement. The snacks were wearing off and I was already headed towards a different dinner plan. Anything that could happen soon sounded better to me at that point but when I saw the care with which The Chief was concocting the perfect tomato base and shredding his cheese combo and selecting toppings I couldn’t concede to a little simple hunger. I was in support of this mission. Pizza Night was back on track despite edging less toward fashionably late and progressing to rude in my book.

The hunger beast knocked a little louder.

Finally, the generator was warm. We took it outside to run it and of course, the gas tank was empty. We went to refuel it and eventually returned to fill the generator. A few expert pulls from The Chief and she was whirring away.

On the way back in we realized we had forgotten the pepperoni in the “cooler” outside (see: tote placed outside in the frozen wilderness that serves as one of our freezers. Watch out Kenmore, there’s a new cool in town). Shoot! Now we would have to wait for these to defrost too.

Thankfully, the fire had been raging in order to defrost the genie (generator) and within 20 minutes the pepps were looking peppy. The pizza had been assembled, the oven pre-heated. It was time to make some kitchen magic happen. Cravings satisfied in 3, 2, 1…

Lights out.

Just as the oven had come to temp and we were readying the pizza for bake-off, the genie died.

“Hmmm…that’s strange” we both thought aloud optimistically. “Should be fine” we both reassured.

The Chief headed out to assess. Within a few minutes it was whirring again, the kitchen light came back on and we waited as the oven again rose to temperature. A momentary set-back.

The oven rose right up and…

Again. Lights out.

“Bad gas?” The Chief and I thought again aloud simultaneously. It was a hopeful solution. This time, we wouldn’t turn on the eco-throttle (basically it saves energy and burns less gas). We would let the genie run full-bore to burn through whatever water had gotten into the gas. We would blow the bad gas out, fix the machine and cook a pizza in the meantime. All set.

The Chief headed out again, ramped the machine up and came back in hopeful. “That should do it”.

A minute or so later, it stopped again.

By now, we were three hours into the pizza. The snacks had definitely worn off. The genie was dead, again.

We decided to bring it inside again. Without a warm shed to work in (ours isn’t enclosed and doesn’t have room for a stove in it to keep warm while working), a lot of work ends up happening inside. Our house took on the smell of gasoline and oil instead of pizza as The Chief slowly removed each part, checking for ice in the lines or some other mishap. I looked on with fingers crossed. Finally, diagnosing all he could see, The Chief put it all back together again.

We would try one more time.

You guessed it. Our last attempt was to no avail, despite the oven kicking on and almost coming to temp, the genie again died before we could high-five and we were left again staring at a pile of dough who so wanted to grow up to be a pizza.

What would we tell this dough? Sorry, we just couldn’t figure it out?

No! This man loved pizza. Darned if we wouldn’t try (again).

And so, we decided that although the batteries were in fact low, they were not so low that solely running the oven off of the inverter would be detrimental. We switched over the power and turned on the inverter. The oven clicked on and again the heating process started. The dough looked on with hope in its eyes. Pizza time.

Nope.

Within minutes, the inverter, without explanation suddenly quit. Our brand new inverter (O.K. 6 month old inverter) suddenly shut off out of nowhere. This had happened before during the Summer. I had turned it on to put music on for The Chief’s arrival home after a long day at work and instead of returning to tunes, he returned to me with my hands in the air, staring at the equipment that had suddenly quit. We had sent it in and they couldn’t recreate the problem. It had simply worked for them. $60 later in shipping fees and with no real response other than “That’s weird” from the company (they are extremely helpful but simply could not tell us what had transpired) we had our working inverter back.

Had it struck again? We tried turning it off, holding down the power button, talking to it, doing a dance, everything. Nothing worked. The pizza dough looked on in dismay. Finally, after tinkering away, The Chief decided to call it quits. I started thinking of the fastest solution to our hunger that I could muster and just when I was ready to start executing said meal The Chief said: “Well, I guess I’ll go get the old inverter.”

What? We are still doing this? The look in his eyes told me that he would cook this pizza if he had to go to Anchorage and back to buy a new inverter. He was not giving up. I love this about him. I wouldn’t say I’m some sort of deserter but my dedication to the project paled in comparison to his. I buckled down and got my supportive pants on. Let’s do this.

The Chief went out to grab the old inverter and I went to find the tool bag we would need. We came back together and he went to work, disassembling the existing set-up for the new inverter and connecting the old inverter instead. Through the mess of black and red wires, The Chief held steady and after stripping the wires and reconnecting them and adjusting and rearranging and overall doing things I still have no idea how to do, the old inverter was in place. It was now 4 hours since we had started our pizza project and edging towards 10pm. My overly dramatic hunger beast threw her hand up and “woe is me”‘d me many times but now, I was in it. I couldn’t be swayed. It was Pizza Night.

Thankfully, the old inverter (trusty steed that she is, fingers crossed) set right to business. The oven kicked back on, the dough rose with a smile and thirty minutes later, in it went. The house, once filled with the smell of gasoline and oil shifted palates as the dough turned to crust and the cheese bubbled up.

Finally, finally, it was pizza time.

By the time we sat down to eat, it was 11pm. I was past hungry (the beast had given up on the prospect of food and had instead taken to my insides like a punching bag), ready for bed and exhausted from the in and outs and highs and lows of the evening. We had a non-working generator, a non-functional but new inverter, an old inverter being pushed to her limits and a battery bank that was near dead with no way to charge it (since the genie was caput).

But, we did have pizza.

Honestly, that dough could have turned into bubble wrap in the oven that night and I still would have eaten it. To have simply gone to sleep after that journey would have been a slap in the face to the battle we had been through. Pizza Night Combat. We had made it.

And it was delicious.

Never before did I think I could live a life where the things that I want aren’t immediately available. A recipe calls for capers? Run to the store and get them. Well, no sireebob. That’s not how it goes in these here woods. But when the hunger beast calls, especially with a special hankering, you answer. The outcome might be different from what you expected, capers might have to be olives borrowed from a neighbor, ice cream might have to be blended snow and cream but when it’s all said and done, the journey makes it taste just as good as the real thing.

Cheers to the feast and to feeding the beast…eventually.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

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