winter

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.

 

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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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Christmas at the Lake

 

Christmas at The Lake.

 

It just sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

 

Weeks before we arrived in Alaska, The Chief received a text message containing those four magical words: “Christmas at The Lake” and there it was, our Christmas plans were settled.

And by our Christmas plans I mean the whole town’s Christmas plans. Holidays and events around here aren’t invite only. As long as you know how to get there or can follow someone who does, you’re invited. There’s no hush-hush hullabaloo and I love that.

Two Summers ago (my first) on our drive in, the stranger who picked me up in Anchorage (and now is a dear girlfriend) told me she was getting married that Summer. We talked about the details and her dress that she was making from scratch(!) and the invitations she had made by hand and despite all these little clues, I still didn’t quite understand how it was all going to come together. How would they feed their guests without catering? Where would they rent the chairs and tables from? Who was invited?

Well, it turns out that the answer to all of those questions and what all those little hints were pointing to was: everyone.

Everyone would come together to make it happen and everyone was invited.

I was blown away by the inclusiveness of it all. Never before had I been around such an open wedding. It seemed foreign to me, but in the best of ways but still I just didn’t get it.

That was before I knew the town.

A month or so later when the wedding took place it all made sense. The balance of independence and inclusiveness truly showed me what this place is all about. Without that balance, the town wouldn’t be the same. People carpooled to the 15 or so mile away Lake and from there, the next step was getting across. Some brought their own boats and paddled across, the bride and groom’s families paddled and motored people across in boats and canoes and eventually, everyone arrived. Anyone who wanted to make it was there and it was a heartwarming sight to behold. Friends and family on the shore made a half circle around the dock where the ceremony took place while boating friends and family completed the other half of the circle in the water.

 

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Ah, and guess who the officiant was? Well, besides the dogs, of course (beer in hand to make it official).

 

It was absolutely stunning.

 

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The bride and groom on their paddle across The Lake on their way to the party…eventually.

 

After the ceremony (once we remembered to pick up the bride and groom whom we had accidentally stranded without a car on the other shore while we all took a joyride around The Lake…whoops!) the party moved to town and everyone, from babies to grandparents, came together to make a night that wouldn’t soon be forgotten, filled with live music and even a roasting pig. Throughout the day I was constantly impressed by the couple’s relaxed demeanor and how everything just seemed to come together. Sure, it’s still Alaska and certain things went wrong (see: leaving them stranded for an hour missing their own party among other things) but this was to be expected. It was so mellow, so focused on what really mattered.

It was the first time I truly understood this place. Everyone was invited. It took me a while to realize how strange this felt to me, how unfamiliar and also how absolutely right it fit. This was how I wanted to live.

Since then, a more communal life has grown less foreign to me and for that I am grateful. Dont’ get me wrong, I still like to be alone but it’s changed my perspective in ways I didn’t realize I needed. It’s brought me into contact with people I might not otherwise meet and the unspoken ease of it all from years and years of practice makes me smile.

From poker nights at people’s houses to holidays at the community building (actually, originally someone’s house which was donated to the community. He was a man who loved to bring people together, and so now, even in his absence, he still does) everyone somehow effortlessly comes together to create something amazing. Someone cuts firewood and heats the building before everyone arrives, someone brings something to roast, someone else bakes a pie, others bring appetizers and still others bring salads, a bachelor surprises everyone with a culinary masterpiece and others stay to do dishes or come by to clean up the next day and handle the recycling and trash.

Everyone plays a part.

And so, when we got that dreamy text this Winter, my heart warmed. Not only did I fall head over heels for The Lake upon my first visit (which was also my first night here) but I loved having a date already set when we would get together in the way that makes me most proud to live here: as a big, crazy, generation-spanning, resourceful, creative and cozy family.

Christmas Day.

We awoke together to a very white Christmas and cozied up by the fire. In place of gifts we exchanged “I love you’s” since while in Anchorage we had decided that our supplies would be our gifts to one another.

Soon, it was time to head to The Lake. For weeks since we had gotten the invitation we had been checking the weather. The temperatures had been in the high 30’s below zero (that sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?) Needless to say, it had been cold and having just arrived, we weren’t prepared to let our house freeze again just by simply leaving it for a few hours. Everyone watched their thermometers for the days approaching Christmas and as luck would have it, the weather “warmed” up. It was still below zero but if we could get the fire going hot enough before we left, we might just return to a house heated above freezing (when temperatures get that cold we even have to wake in the middle of the night to feed the fire, so leaving the house for hours on end is a sure ticket to a cold return). The “bones” of the house were still cold despite our constant fire for the last two days but we decided it would be o.k. and hoped that we were right. Now that we had handled that, it was time to figure out transport. By 10am the phone was ringing and ride orchestrations were in full-effect. How would everyone get there? Were we riding the 15 miles via snowmachine (brrrr) or should we take the pups? We decided to take the truck so we could bring a friend if she needed a ride and so the pups could come along. The Lake is doggy heaven. Frozen salmon stuck under the ice? Yes please. Once everyone had figured out with one another how to get there it was time to actually start the process.

We’ll leave in about an hour.

Did I just hear laughter?

Maybe.

By the time two hours had passed, we were finally ready. We were out of Alaska shape and pushing the boundaries of Alaska time (kind of like Hawaii time but more often due to last-minute chores that take longer than planned or quick little accidents that have to be cleaned up rather than the much more preferable laid back Island Time option). I’d forgotten how long it takes just to leave the house (and I’d completely underestimated how long it takes me to put together a peach crisp. 5 minutes, right? Wrong, dear. Wrong). Just getting dressed had been a solid 20 minute endeavor:

  1. Ok, we are going to The Lake. That means standing on ice (The Lake) most of the night so start with some solid layers: silk base layer pants (unfortunately, they’re not nearly as 80’s as they sound).
  2. However, we are also going to be inside the house where the oven and the fire will be going, so I’ll need to be able to strip down to potentially 70 degree weather clothing.
  3. Hmmm…

Finally I settled the conundrum in a series of switchouts and do-overs. Light socks paired with heavy-duty boots, jeans over the silk base and a cozy short-sleeved sweater all accompanied by a puffy jacket and insulated bibs, covered by another puffy jacket, a homemade earwarming headband and two pairs of gloves.

Finally, I was set.

The Chief and I went outside to fuel up the truck and quickly realized that the fuel had been blocked in by a trailer a friend had unknowingly placed in front of our incognito fueling station. Luckily, we still had two fuel barrels in the truck and so we transferred the pump to one of those barrels which, of course, didn’t thread up quite right. Nonetheless, we made it work and another 30 minutes flown by, we were now fueled up.

Whoops!

The truck still had items in it from our arrival: glass bottles and other breakables sat unprotected in the big side boxes of the truck. We had essentially been using it as storage for the moment until everything could find its rightful place within the house and our outdoor storage. Last year, we brought everything in at once and it was anxiety inducing, to say the least. But, now our sneaky plan had been foiled. Foiled!

We unpacked the rest of the truck.

Another 30 minutes gone.

By this time, the sun was starting to threaten to set and we wanted at least a little time out on The Lake in the sunshine.

I wouldn’t say that happened, but we were happy nonetheless.

 

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We finally arrived (after having to track down the wandering pups, they just love to play hard to get) around 3pm, just as the sun was giving her lasting final farewell. Along the drive we watched her magical descent and looked out in awe at the place we call home.

We arrived to a ready chauffeur (my girlfriend had just gotten her snowmachine working and drove over from the other side of The Lake to pick us up). She and I rode together, giggling the whole time as the uncovered peach crisp gathered bits of fresh snow as they were flung back onto me on our drive. She went back and gathered The Chief.

We had made it. Hugs and “Merry Christmas” cheers abounded.

We arrived to a big group of friends all standing around the bonfire they’d built on The Lake (a bonfire on ice? This still seems impossible to me).

Watch it in HD here

 

 

 

We had shown up just in time for sunset kickball and no sooner had everyone had a chance to kick than the sun finally bid her last adieu and we called it quits for the day.

 

 

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The perfect chill down.

 

But that didn’t cease the fun.

Up next?

Why, jumping the fire via snowboard towed by a snowmachine, of course.

One friend locked into his board while another readied his snowmachine for towing. We cleared a path and gathered the dogs and before I knew it, there they came, headlight seeking out a way through the darkness as the machine loudly announced their arrival and then…

up and over he went.

 

 

 

The first time was a breeze, the second time despite our many efforts, one of the dogs jumped in the way at the last minute. Thankfully, the dog was dodged due to some quick reflexes a la the driver Mr. K and the jumper, Mr. M still made it, despite having to let go too early.

Bonfires, kickball, fire-jumping?

This night had already exceeded my expectations.

 

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And then, it was dinner time.

Our hosts had made some amazing roasts and delicious goodies and somehow, amazingly, everyone else had brought complementary dishes and even… (drumroll please) a salad. That’s a big deal for out in the woods.

We ate, drank and were merry and as the night progressed I smiled more and more at its beauty. We all live in these woods for different reasons but I’d venture to guarantee that for everyone it’s for a piece of solitude. You won’t meet someone out here who doesn’t like to be alone. But despite all of our independence we like to be together and the we who comes together is any and every combination you can imagine. Next year’s Christmas gang might hold completely different faces. People who were here this year might be away and those who were away this year might return. It’s a constantly changing composition, this family of ours, but throughout the ebbs and flows there we still are. Through this shared experience of living in the woods, all of our differences or rough edges are rounded away.

We are in this here crazy choice of a sometimes very difficult but always rewarding life together and for that I can’t thank our lucky stars enough.

 

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Happy belated Holidays to you and yours.

With love,

From Alaska.

 

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Goodnight, bonfire.

 

 

The Long Way Home: The Nitty Gritty, Three Weeks in the Making Version

Despite our stay lasting a mere two months, packing up from our stint in California was quite the feat.

We had moved upwards of 10 times while in the good ‘ol CA, from house sitting to housesitting to our RV in one place, then moving it to another place, then to out of our RV due to a major mold takeover (and my health gone with it), to housesitting, to staying with parents, to visiting parents, to visiting friends, to housesitting to staying in our friends’ awesome Airstream to parents once again. We were packing fiends. Packing, unpacking, repeat and repeat and repeat. In and out of place after place. The funniest part of it all was that most of our time in California we were living with less amenities than we have in the woods. Especially in the RV we didn’t have hot water or a stove or showers or toilets or even phone service. All this way from the woods and we were taking steps backwards? We had to laugh at the irony.

Two weeks before we left CA we took one last spin in the RV, caravan style and headed down South to The Chief’s parents’ house.

 

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Cinda Jones and the birthday plant I stole from my mama, riding shotgun. Thanks, DCG!

 

After three days out in the beautiful foothills it was time to batten down the hatches and bid adieu to both family and our trusty (musty) RV home.

 

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Perhaps the Summer will bake out the mold? Mmmm, tasty.

 

Upon our return up North, we reached my parents’ house. It would be our last move and last place to call Home for our last week in CA before starting our journey to our Home Home in Alaska.

That last week was a constant manipulation of time and energy. Tidying up little loose ends took, as usual, longer than planned and so instead of spending quality time with my Mama, we spent most of the time maniacally running around amidst the holiday shoppers, checking things off lists upon lists. We organized the storage unit (and one day I trapped myself in a corner by accidentally encircling myself by ominous mountains of boxes…whoops!). We packed and re-packed again and again (I was determined to be under the bag weight limit this year) and tried to decipher what should come.

You see, when we left Alaska this Fall, it was still Summer in California and so we had packed for three seasons in California: Summer (hot, hot, hot), Fall (crisp but often still hot) and Winter (damp “get in your bones” rainy time). Now, we really only needed Winter apparel, and Winter in Alaska apparel at that, none of which we had in California (it was all waiting for us in our truck in AK). But what was to be done with all the other seasonal clothing? To take or leave? I found myself asking “Do I wear tank tops in the Winter?” Of course not, but in reality? I actually do. Our house ends up getting to 70-80 degrees on the daily due to my fire feeding habits. And so, the field of what to bring grew larger as my bags seemingly shrunk before my eyes (they do that, right?) Plus, come Summer in Alaska I would need all my California Summer & Fall & Winter clothes (since the weather ranges in a day what California ranges in months) but between key storage finds (real cloth napkins?!) We were getting fancy in the woods this Winter) and things (read:books) we had acquired over the two months of our stay plus the three seasons worth of clothes we had already brought, my suitcases were bulging.

Finally, the bags zipped for the last time as the week came to a speedy end. I visited the Ocean and hiked the hills one last time and said “goodbye” to a land and people whom I love, for now.

It was time to go.

After some serious packing, stacking and securing maneuvers we five (Cinda, my parents, The Chief and myself) plus four suitcases, two carry-ons and an XL dog crate were off to our night flight from San Francisco.

We made it with time to spare and spent a foggy-eyed few minutes hugging and kissing our way to goodbye. I feel lucky to say that no matter how old I am, I always miss my Mama. We hollered teary “Love you”‘s as they drove away and the now three of us navigated our way inside with our luggage brigade precariously placed all atop one cart.

Cinda was immediately on alert.

She

Is

Not

A

Fan.

She knew the inevitable squish into the kennel was coming and I could feel her anxiety surge as we entered the bustling SFO.

Since we had so much time before our flight and since our last-minute zippering up of bags had taken the whole day which meant Cinda Lou hadn’t gotten a walk, we decided I should walk her around and find the elusive “Pet Relief” area. I had looked it up on the website on our way down and could not, for the life of me, figure out where it was. We approached the Information Booth and the man said he “could try to explain it” but that it was “best to just walk diagonally across the entire terminal to the next Information Booth and ask there”. From there we would be closer.

Hmm.

Cinda and I headed out and 5 minutes later arrived to a new man with a new map with the same puzzled look on his face.

“I think, if you head down these escalators and then make a few weird turns you’ll eventually see the paw prints” he said after making us wait another five minutes while helping others with what he called “easier” questions.

What were we getting ourselves into? Some kind of underground pet society? Would we face an initiation? At this point, we were going either way.

Finally we spotted the paw prints which led us out and around and under and finally to the mysterious Pet Relief Area.

 

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And she was relieved.

 

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Panic no more Jones, we found it.

 

 

You know when you have to use the bathroom, but only a little yet as you head towards it and realize it’s occupied you suddenly have to use the bathroom a lot a lot a lot? The look in Cinda’s eyes as we went further and further into the depths of SFO with no end in sight told the same story.

But we had made it in time. All was good. We sang “follow the white puppy prints” (sung to the tune of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, of course) all the way to the pen.

At this point we had been gone almost 40 minutes so after a few chases around the pen and ear scratches, it was time to go. We raced back just in time to get in the suddenly multiplying line.

Then we saw it: Delayed.

Our layover in Seattle was 41 minutes, a flight we had chosen and raved about because of the shorter overall time Cinda would be cooped up in her cage. We were such good parents.

Right?

By the time we reached the kiosk there had been another delay. At this point we would have 10 minutes to reach our connecting flight.

“What were you even thinking booking a flight with such a short connection time?” the woman at the desk asked us.

I guess being morons, apparently. Good Parent Award out the window. We weren’t going to make our connection, she assured us.

Great!

But, there was some good news, she promised. She could (hopefully) put us on the next flight out of Seattle. With the delay as it stood we should be just fine and the overall time wouldn’t be extended. We just had to “make sure we caught that flight since it was the last one of the night” she warned us.

Just then, we saw another alert: another delay to our already twice delayed plane. My heart sunk. We’d already been on our way for weeks now, ever since we dropped off the RV and now, so close to the finish line and we might not even make it today?

Stay calm.

We put our bags on the scales and…I hadn’t made it. I was four pounds over the limit. But, just then, our luck puffed up again as the bag handler, a buff man no taller than me who could probably lift three of me, looked at me, looked at the scale, looked at the lady booking our flights, smiled and nodded.

No charge.

Booyah!

Things were looking up.

For Cinda, however, they were looking grim.

We headed over to the Oversize Baggage area with the Muscle Man himself and proceeded to, as gently as possible, shove little Lou into her cage. There was no bribing her in there or coaxing her to comply, it was sheer (gentle) force. Thank goodness we had Mr. Muscles there for backup. In the shuffle of getting in the kennel, Miss Lou knocked over her water from her “no-spill” water bowl but it was too late, apparently. The zip ties were already on the cage and Muscles was already carting her away.

“She’s like our child!” we called after him like the animal loving, over-protective lunatic parents we are as we stood there watching her roll away. There’s a panic that sets in when flying your furry loved one in the cargo of the plane, and as we realized we no longer had control over the situation we turned in for a hug.

Hugs help.

And so, dogchild-less, it was time for security. Easy-peasy. Just remove all of your humanity, put it into these tiny boxes and try not to forget anything as you rush through like a herd of cattle.

The plane was boarding by the time we made it through but we’d had nothing to eat so The Chief stopped quickly to grab us dinner. In the midst of paying he realized his ID was gone.

The food was ready, the plane on second boarding and there I stood waiting anxiously as The Chief ran all the way back to Security.

It had to be there. If not, we weren’t getting on in Seattle. A second possible derailment of our journey loomed overhead but minutes later, I saw The Chief smiling and running back to me.

Phew!

We got on the plane at Last Call and they were all buckled up and ready to go. Except when we got to our row our seats were taken by a family. They said they could move if we really wanted them to but the stewards and stewardesses were hurrying so we just plopped down in their seats (I still never quite understood why they had done the switcheroo in the first place since they knew they weren’t in their seats but hey, it matters none, I guess). Everything was a Go except for one small detail: our Lou.

When you have a dog in Cargo the airline is required to provide proof that the dog is on board via a ticket stub attached to her kennel by her parents. No ticket no go.

No ticket.

“Ready for takeoff” we heard over the loudspeakers.

Before I could even ring the stewardess button The Chief was on it. They assured us that she was on board.

No, that’s not going to work for us.

Minutes later another stewardess flashed what could have been just a blank piece of paper at us from the front of the plane and mouthed (I think) “I got it” and immediately again “Ready for takeoff” came on over the loudspeakers.

Nope. Not good enough.

I ran to the front of the plane, chased after by another stewardess who seemed to appear out of nowhere who hissed at me “Do not run!” in the quietest yell one can muster. I didn’t care. We needed that ticket.

I finished my jog and saw that the paper she held was indeed our ticket (thank goodness) and walked back, a bit embarrassed but glad to know our pooch was in tow, with the angry stewardess following closely behind. Geez.

We taxied to the runway and with that…

we waited.

The plane was delayed. Again.

 

Please, please let us make the last Seattle plane to Alaska.

Please.

 

Thankfully, we did.

 

Of course, we landed on the complete opposite side of the airport from our gate at the not so small SeaTac, but two tram stops and a run later and we panted our way onto the already boarded plane.

The flight was packed and…

when we had been re-routed by the agent at SFO we were no longer sitting next to one another. This was the last leg of the night flight. The “I’m so glad I’m sitting next to my significant other right now since I’m drooling on the person next to me and the person next to me is thankfully him.”

Don’t pretend you don’t drool too. You do, right?

No, we were rows away from one another for the sleepiest, longest leg of the journey. Good luck unknowing stranger next to me.

Again we went through the rigmarole of getting our tags for Lou. They assured us she was down below but couldn’t produce the tag. I thought The Chief was going to turn into a taller version of Mr. Muscles as he flexed his Daddy Love in the face of their oppositions.

“Sir, it’s fine, she’s almost definitely on board.”

Almost + Definitely =nope, not going to work.

Despite all eyes of the plane (again) on us we stood strong until they finally found the tag.

GEEEEEEEZ!

I had a quick flashback in that moment to a time when my Grandfather was thrown off a plane not so long ago for being obstinate (I guess it runs in the family) and crossed my fingers we would all three make the flight home.

Home. It seemed so unattainable.

As we prepared to take off yet again I texted our friend who had offered to pick us up at the airport in Anchorage, even though our original flight had us landing at 2am and told him not to worry, that we would get a cab to their house.

He, being the trooper that he is, wouldn’t hear of it and so, hours later we three and our six bags greeted a welcome familiar face.

And Lou greeted the snow.

 

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Pup Snow Angels

 

 

I felt like I could breathe again.

Sure, we still had days to go before we would actually be home but finally, finally, we had made it onto Alaskan soil. It had felt like an impossibility.

We settled in for the night at our sweet friend’s house and succeeded in only waking up 1/3 of the sleeping inhabitants.

Success!?

The next day The Chief had a sinus check-up which he thankfully passed with flying colors after which we took a cab to the garage where the fire truck was being serviced.

With a set of wheels again we were all set to finally get to shopping but by then it was already 6pm. The sun had set hours before and there was no sense in starting our food shopping since we obviously wouldn’t be able to get it done in time to leave the next morning. We shopped, unsuccessfully, until everything closed, for new Winter boots for me (since my feet had apparently decided to grow since last year) and then gave in for the day. And so, we settled in for the night, planning to do all of our errands, to buy all of our supplies for the next three months, tomorrow.

After a night of reunions with our hosting friends the next day didn’t exactly get off to an early start, but start it did.

But not before a little walk to the park.

 

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Snow. I never thought I’d miss snow.

 

 

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This was just too much for me not to record. Back to Alaska but not quite back to the wild.

 

Let the shopping begin.

Oh wait, first let me forget my wallet at home so that we have to carve out 45 minutes of our day driving back and forth and then…

Let the shopping begin.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Vegas but if you have, and if you’ve gone in without a budget in mind, you can relate. Before half the day had gone by I was sickened by spending money. It was overwhelming. It always is.

But, we rallied together, trading off having little melt downs and saying words of encouragement to one another to get through the day. It’s funny the phases you hit.

  1. Excitement and Optimism (read: caffeine): “We are doing great!” and “It probably won’t even take the whole day!” and “I made detailed lists for each store” are phrases often naively expressed.
  2. The First Big Expenditure: “Dang, that was more than I thought it would be” is often uttered, accompanied by a lowering of enthusiasm. But still, you must push on.
  3. Fatigue: “Do we really need this?” is uttered while staring zombie-like at toilet paper and other necessities. Yes. Yes, you need that. Buckle up, buttercup, the day isn’t even halfway over.
  4. Minor Meltdown: Realize you haven’t eaten. Eat.
  5. The Fuck-Its: Sorry for the swear but it’s the best way to describe it. “We missed the milk, should I go back and get it?” someone asks while already in line. “Fuck it” the other replies. Or, “Should I get lemons? Will we have enough warm space?” followed up by a “Fuck it” said to yourself as you grab not one, but two bags. Fuck it.
  6. The Check-Out: “Oh man, you guys must be hungry!” says the checker as everyone in line behind you wishes they’d picked a better line. We organize our carts (yes, carts plural) according to freezable and non-freezable items so they can be boxed up as such. So needless to say, checking out takes a loooooooong time.
  7. The panic: We service the fire truck when we go to Town and it has a beyond tiny area to house all of our non-perishables which must all fit behind bench seat (it’s not an extended cab and there is no backseat so basically it’s a six-inch wide stacking situation. How are we going to fit everything? But, at this point it’s not a how as in, can we fit everything? The deal is done, it’s about how to fit everything. Let the Tetris games begin.
  8. The Return Home or to the Hotel and The Unpack: Just when you are beyond tired from an entire day of navigating through frozen streets and angry drivers and you finally arrive home and want nothing more than to zonk out, that’s when the next rounds of Tetris begin. Bringing round after round of all of the non-perishables inside (and subsequently taking over our friends’ house), covering all freezables that will be left, unsecured, in the truck over night and crossing your fingers they’ll be there when you wake up.
  9. You Think You’re Done but You’re Not: You’re inside, warm, maybe even eating something delicious but your mind is elsewhere. You’re planning tomorrow full of unrealistic timings and to-dos: wake up at 6am, re-pack everything (plus luggage and a dog crate and two humans and a dog) in ten minutes, shop before heading to the Department of Human Services (I had gotten lost in the system and since they wouldn’t answer their phone, the only solution was a visit and the only chance I had to visit was on our leaving day) and get out of town by 10 am at the latest. Cute, very cute.

And so our Town Run went something like that. We forgot things, were gawked at in Costco, had minor meltdowns and build-ups, spent more money in a day than feels civil and returned exhausted and on high alert. But, we did it.

 

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Carts 1&2 out of 3

 

 

The next morning we were off!

Sort of.

We did wake at 6am, according to plan (high-five, self!) but re-packing a truck in the freezing dark of the morning takes more than 10 minutes. You know that, I knew that but did I budget the time for it? Naw.

Finally, after nearly suffocating the entire household with the fumes from the backed-up-as-close-to-the-house-as-possible-to-prevent-theft truck we were on our way. Sure, it was already 8:45am and we certainly weren’t going to fit in shopping before the DHS but, oh well. We were moving, nonetheless. We waved goodbye to our now polluted-by-our-fumes-friends and off we went.

 

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You’re not mad at us, are you TheRon?

 

The mechanic had mentioned that the heater wasn’t working but we already knew that. I mean, it worked, a little, or at least enough last year in the Winter to get us home. Plus, as he mentioned, it’s mainly a Summer vehicle.

Yea?

It turns out it had worsened since we had last experienced it and temperatures were much lower than they had been last year (in the 20’s) and so we shivered our way to the government building.

“I’ll be back in just a bit, babe!” I said as I jumped out of the truck, paperwork in hand. I was in the first phase of errands again, excited and optimistic.

An hour plus later, paperwork still in hand with no telling how much longer it would be, I moved out of Stage One all the way to the Fuck It Stage. It didn’t matter if I had healthcare, right? I’m sure I would eventually get hold of someone on the phone eventually if I called enough from home. I was wasting daylight, we should just leave.

A text from The Chief (he was out running odds and ends errands) was perfectly timed, telling me to take all the time I needed and he would be handling things until I was done.

Yea, I love him.

Finally, my name was called. After 45 minutes and jumping through plenty of bureaucratic loops, I walked out triumphant.

Now, we were on the road!

We decided to drive out of Town to the next town (and last stop for a mainstream (think, has anything and will actually be open) grocery store) so we could feel like we were at least making progress.

As we were just about to hit the freeway we noticed a car had run up over a snow bank. In California, I can honestly (though still with shame) say that I’ve seen people on the side of the road with a stopped car and not stopped. They just seemed to have it handled already and it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just not as much the culture. Alaska brings out the best in me in that way because here people truly need to help one another, and so they do. By the time we had pulled over (we had simultaneously said “We should stop”. Jinx!) two other groups of people had stopped to help too. Three different groups of people came together and the car was out in a jiffy. The wife was so grateful that she hugged us as she said “Thank you”.

 

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I love Alaska.

An hour later we arrived at our destination town. All we had to do was grab a short list of groceries, fill up two 55-gallon drums with gasoline, fill up the truck’s two tanks and we were done and on our way for real (clearly, we were back in good ‘ol Stage One)!

Halfway through the produce section, we knew behind the seat wasn’t going to cut it and so, loving a girl who loves vegetables, The Chief came up with a plan. We would unpack the truck to get to our clothing, buy a tote in the store, line it with the clothes, fill up a water bottle with hot water to fight off the ever-dropping temperatures outside, fill the next layer of the tote with perishables, followed by another layer of clothing. He’s a smarty.

By the time we were finished shopping Cinda needed to get out and stretch her bones and so I walked the pooch while The Chief played a whole new level of Tetris. I returned to fetch the water bottle and headed inside to see if the coffee shop would fill it. 10 minutes later I returned.

“Did you get my text?”

Sure didn’t.

We had forgotten ratchet straps inside and so, The Chief and I traded and he went in this time to collect the last of the forgottens and to use the restroom.

I distracted myself from how late we were by plucking Cinda’s undercoat out and making it into a toupee.

 

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She was not amused, but she let me do it anyways.

 

By the time he came back I now had to use the restroom.

One more trip inside.

Now that the whole family had used the facilities, the truck was once again reconfigured and my veggies were on board, all we had left was to pump gas and we were done.

Oh and try to fix the heater.

The Chief fashioned a block against cold air going into the radiator via cardboard and we hoped for the best. That first hour’s drive had been a very cold one. The heater blew only cold air, so cold that we couldn’t tell if it was actually any warmer than the air outside. Well, fingers crossed for the magic of cardboard.

Now gas and gone!

150 gallons of gas (two 55-gallon barrels and two 20-gallon tanks on the truck) takes so much more time than I ever allow for.

Two hours from when we had arrived in the last town for a “quick stop for last-minute essentials” we were on our way.

 

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So much trust in four simple straps.

 

 

Except, wait.

It was Winter now and lunchtime and once we left this town it would be 5 hours before anything we saw another store or anything edible. All of the very few stops the Summer months have to offer are closed in the Winter. So, despite being beyond ready to leave, we had to stop once more for food.

Ok, now, now we are on our way.

And finally, we were.

 

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About an hour into the drive, we decided that the cardboard was in fact taking the edge off but that we were still slowly turning into human ice sculptures. I wiggled my toes incessantly in my boots to try to heat them but they were numb within minutes from the cold. I get cold. The Chief on the other hand rarely succumbs to that human reality. Yet, as I looked over at him as we scaled the roads through the mountains and the cold air blew, I could see he felt it too.

I remembered Grandma Jane had given me hand warmers last year that I had stashed in my suitcase again this year, just in case, for this exact kind of occasion.

But in which exact suitcase and where exactly they were, I hadn’t the faintest clue.

We decided to try a search anyways and pulled over. The winds were whipping and instantly my hands were frozen. Again, we had to re-tetris the load so that I could access my bags in the hopes that I had placed them in an outside zipper. I wedged my hand in between the freezing metal of the truck and the zipper of my bag.

No luck.

I tried each zipper on both bags but I couldn’t reach the far recesses of one and by then we were both frozen to the core.

We decided to give in to our frosty ride and just grin and bare it. I was about to jump off the truck when I realized my pink robe was accessible. I grabbed it and an accessible sweater, jumped out of the bed, spent a few minutes standing directly in front of the exhaust to take off the chill and jumped into what now felt like a warm truck by comparison to outside.

The Chief looked at the robe and giggled at me.

An hour later, after I had found yet another layer stashed away in the cab of the truck to cover myself, I pushed him to take the robe. I could tell he was freezing.

He looked glorious.

Hours later we made it to the last town before the turn-off. We gassed up, bought hand warmers and hot drinks at the small market, took Lou on a little jaunt where she made snow angel upon snow angel and then packed back into the truck.

No more stops.

Next stop: Home.

It was so close I could feel it.

All the stress, all the travel, all the uncertainty and endlessness of it all suddenly wrapped up into a paper ball which I sunk into an imaginary trash can. I could relax.

We were almost home.

By “almost home” I mean we still had four plus hours left but it didn’t matter. We were over the halfway mark.

Two hours later, we turned onto The Road, our 60 mile driveway, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Road glaciers beware, we were determined to make it home.

 

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We stopped to celebrate the start of the road and stepped out to the fresh prints of a lynx.

 

The Road was in surprisingly good condition and after only a few hairy moments of sliding downhill while pointed uphill driving over road glaciers, we approached the turn for our house. Five minutes and a seriously bumpy 4-wheeling time down the driveway and we had made it.

We were finally home.

We hooted and hollered and hugged and kissed our way into the house.

We were welcomed not only via signage but also by a house well above the freezing temperatures outside (45 degrees inside!). Our lovely neighbors had spent the day building and then checking and adding to a fire in our wood stove. Had they not, that cold ride home would have paled in comparison to the cold night ahead of us. We felt so lucky. (Thank you S&A!)

 

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It said “Welcome”, I swear. Excited photography blooper.

 

 

We spent the rest of the night carrying in necessities and exclaiming how we still couldn’t believe we had made it and how, at the same time, it felt like we had never left.

Finally, exhausted from months of packing and unpacking and being in a state of constant vigilance not to forget anything or leave anything behind, I settled in for the night. The Chief was still on a high from making it home and needed to wind down with some tunes, but me? I was toast.

As the first one into bed, I became the official Bed Defroster. It was still hard as a rock. The surfaces of the room were shiny with ice crystals and the windows had frost coming through every nook and cranny it could find.

 

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I suited up for my defrosting mission: long johns followed by fleece pants, wool socks, sweatshirt, hat and as many blankets as I could find. I jumped onto the bed (it’s quite high and I’m well, not) and landed with a resounding “thud”, reminding me again of my defrosting mission. I crawled under the covers and did a little dance to get a semblance of heat going. And I did. And thankfully once I get going I am a little heater. And so, by the time The Chief crawled in a few hours later we had an almost cozy place to rest our heads.

And rest we did.

Until the chores called and all the packing up of the cabin we’d done in the Fall needed to be un-done.

But that was for the morning. Our three-week journey home had ended.

 

We were home.

 

Sweet dreams.

 

With love,

from Alaska.