This Blog Is Not Real

 

Last night a young lady with a history much like my children’s wrote me a message and asked for advice.  But before she asked, she spent several paragraphs telling me why she wasn’t worthy of my time.  “…as if reading your blog somehow makes me worthy of placing myself in your life,” she said.

As if my time, my attention, my compassion was something of value and she…was not.

I can string words together in a way that is appealing to some, and I can make people laugh or cry… but that does not make me any more important than she.  It does not make me special.  It doesn’t make me somehow more worthy than  anyone else.  Nor does it make me any less in need of help, attention, or advice.

Because this blog is not ‘real’.  The internet is not ‘real’.  These are just words I put out there, only part of the whole, a fraction of what or who I am.  It is, in some aspect a persona created by me…not really ‘me’ at all…

It doesn’t make me anything, really.  Just someone who writes things down. And just like Tom Cruise, or that guy who stands on the street corner, my tummy rumbles when I eat Mexican food.  Because when it comes down to it…we are all exactly the same.

My everyday life is real.  My soft cheeks, my waistline, and dirt under my fingernails…those things are real.  Fights with my husband; saying things to my children I can’t take back; having a baby at sixteen and never really outgrowing the stigma; and raising other people’s damaged children and wishing I wasn’t needed.  Real is the arthritis that plagues my fingers as I type; the pain in my children’s soul when they open their memories to past abuse; watching my parents grow old and knowing I am doing the same; the fat cat that sleeps by my feet as I write.

All real.

Wondering if my children are more messed up than when they came; my spare bank account; crooked teeth; occasional deep down self-loathing; and the painful words of this girl who has never met me, whose history haunts her to the point that she writes to me…a stranger she hopes has some answers.

Those things are real.  And sometimes I come on here and write when my mouth can’t find the words and somehow my fingers can. And I write, and people say, “Oh, I love your honesty…” and I think, “Oh, if you only  knew the mess I am inside…”

Being able to write it all down is just a skill I possess, like some can swing a baseball bat, sing, knit a scarf or multiply without a calculator.  Having writing skills doesn’t make me special and it certainly doesn’t entitle me to deem my time more worthy than this strangers needs.

And because deep down we all suffer the same insecurities,  when this girl came to me, with her beautifully written words of pain and struggle, telling me she is not worthy of my time…my first thought was,

“But, honey…what makes you think I am worthy of YOURS?”

A Home In The Mountains

20150821_121722_resized
Grandpas Resting place

 

We came to this land in June of this year, in the midst of a heatwave. We thought we could make a home from the dust but we left after less than two weeks, frustrated. Our plans foiled.  Maybe it wasn’t time yet. Maybe we wimped out.

And so we left. For two months we traveled between Oregon and Redding, hopping between generous friends and family, trying not to burden, yet knowing five teenagers, three dogs and four cats is bound be be a burden regardless of our efforts at invisibility.

 

20150821_121634_resized
Our Little Homesite

 

I don’t know what I thought I would find when I came back here.  That the trees which stood hundreds of years before would have regrown their roots?  That fallen needles would have replaced the soot and ash left behind by the forest fire that ripped through here just a few years ago? Few trees of decent size remain where giants once stood.  A little bunch hovers over my father-in-laws grave, loyal and protective of the one who’d nurtured their roots in life, as well as in death.

I don’t know if I thought it would all be easy, starting over with nothing but soil and a shovel.  I mean, we had just gotten our Alaska homestead halfway livable when we fled south in pursuit of another project. Maybe I’ve gone soft. Maybe I’m tired.  Either way, the first few days here I wallowed in depression and angst over all that lay before us. I cried in the small space of the motorhome while my teens stared and wondered what to do. The thick red dust, ashes, burned remnants of a quality of life that once thrived here, but now seemed impossible to regain. And the heat, the excruciatingly thick, hard-to-breathe heat that lay over the place. It was too much for our skin. Our eyelids sweated. Our shoulders burned. We didn’t want to do it.  Again.

And so we began to search for a rental house.  It took very few inquiries to discover what we’d suspected all along. Nobody wants to rent to a family with six teenagers, four dogs, three cats and zero rental history.  Oddly, if you own your home and don’t own credit cards, it’s somehow viewed as a bad thing. There’s something backwards in that.

And so we dug our fingers into the land once again. Some things are meant to be. I’m apparently meant to have an outhouse.

Six quarters, for three minutes  of public shower is pretty steep when there are eight of us, so we put together an old canvas shower stall we brought with us from Alaska, bought a cheap solar shower bag and strung it up with a piece of  yellow nylon rope, tied off to a branch. We have found nearby resources for hauling water in five gallon jugs. (read as: we fill our jugs at the local campgrounds when the host is away)  We leveled a spot for the motorhome where the old cabin used to be.  We set up a camp complete with barbecue and a tree stump table.  And Billy hung the door on the outhouse we built when we were here in June.  Camp setup: complete.

We take walks. Luke whips the other boys at poker while Anthony asks me again if I’m certain it’s illegal to gamble professionally at fourteen.  We metal detect old fallen down cabins so deep in the woods we wonder if anyone else knows they exist.  We read…a lot.  We search for arrowheads in the dried creek bed where water once flowed high on the banks. We ride bikes down steep hills (I see an ER visit in my future). Billy proved that the bigger the boy, the bigger the fort.  And on days when the heat overtakes us, we hit the water park in Redding,  we drive up to Lassen National Park and dip our bodies into the cool lake or we throw a line in the water at Hat Creek campground up Hwy 44 where Anthony caught his first trout.

Tonight as the sun set I watched my boys, all four of them, wrestling and chasing each other between the trees where my husband played as a boy.  “Get off grandpa’s grave,” I yelled as Billy and Anthony rolled around near the gravesite, coating themselves in thick dust and memories.

And then I remembered…that’s exactly what we came here to do. We just wandered a bit before we found the right path.

 

20150815_163817_resized
Anthony making it to the top…

 

20150818_151029_resized
Mya IN Lake

 

20150818_151104_resized
Luke At Lake

 

20150818_151506_resized
Robin Enjoying The Lake

 

20150821_105412_resized
Reading As Always

 

20150821_121703_resized
The Original Campfire ring

 

20150821_121740_resized
Billy’s Big Boy Fort

 

20150821_121818_resized
Camp

 

20150821_121847_resized
The Shower

 

20150821_121919_resized
Home On Wheels

 

20150822_122713_resized
Comfy Cat

 

20150822_214023_resized
Yatzee Tournament

 

20150823_204413_resized
Getting mighty snug in here…

 

 

 

 

 

 

South From Alaska

8789

We drove south from Alaska near the end of May this year on a whim. Maybe I’m just tired of the winters. The darkness gets to me. Or maybe it’s just a classic mid-life crisis and the husband and I have sunk at the same time. Because in April when I said, “Let’s go south,” he grabbed his suitcase and headed for the door.

“You are leaving Alaska in the summertime?” said everyone we passed going the opposite direction on the Alaska/Canada highway.  Even the Alaska border patrol said we were headed the wrong direction but we just smiled, nodded, and pointed south.

“Where is the six-door?” others would say, knowing we normally drive a rather unusually long rig.  She is having a new motor installed, and was sadly replaced with an old 15 passenger van. I know humility is healthy, but it’s humbling to drive an ugly van after being ultra cool in the six door all these years.  Perhaps our vanity needed to be taken down a notch. The van certainly did that.

It’s somewhere around 2300 miles from Anchorage to Seattle, our first destination being another 600 miles past that in Redding, California. Every time we drive the Alcan highway we swear the next we will take more time and see the sites. But this, my 17th time, was no different than the rest in that we hit the pedal to the medal and didn’t stop until we saw the tip of the space needle.

We did stop to photograph the first of eighteen black bears we saw along the drive, but after that the husband would slow down and I’d hang my head out the window snapping pictures, yelling, ‘go, go, go!’ as one pissed off cinnamon black came charging towards the truck as I clicked. They say black bears aren’t aggressive, but even they don’t like paparazzi shoving a camera in their faces.

Bears, bison, caribou, elk and moose are a common site alongside the road. Or even in the road as was the case with the bison, which don’t move fast for anyone and make a mighty big dent in the bumper if you try to nudge them aside.  So we did slow to a stop for them, but other than that we flew through Canada pretty fast. Someday…some day we will stop at the hot springs and wander the streets of Dawson City like we always promise. Or maybe not.

If you didn’t follow us in the winter of 2013-2014, we did a similar trip and spent six months travelling from Alaska clear down to the gulf of Mexico on the Padre Islands of the Texas coast. We spent a month there, headed up to Utah for a month, and spent the rest of our time relative hopping and camping across the western United States.  We returned to Alaska in May, 2014, spent one year at home (half of which was laid up after an injury involving a bear, two boys, and my superhuman-porch-leaping skills) and now we are off again.  This time for a full year.

We stopped off in Portland, Oregon and had a day with our adult kids, Heather, Destini and Billy as well as Heathers fiancé, Andrew.  We had a phenomenal day in the sun with the kids, and then headed south to the mom-in-laws in Redding just in time to put the husband on a plane to go back to work. Poor guy.

Here was the initial plan: The husband inherited an acre of land an hour east of Redding, deep in the logging roads behind Shingletown, California. It was, long story short, his childhood playground and the place where his family escaped the city life of southern Cal, his entire life. His father’s ashes are there, in a memorial rock, and a few years ago the whole place burned in a forest fire, leaving behind a few trees and nothing much else.  The ‘property’, as it’s known to the family, went from a shaded oasis of redwoods and pines to a desert of deep red dirt and ash.

And we came south to revive it. We bought tents, cots, lawn chairs, shovels, rakes and camping equipment and planned to spend the summer rebuilding the past, so the children of the future could love it as he did.  We started with an outhouse. But here is what we discovered..

Redding, California and the surrounding area, is like LIVING IN A TOASTER OVEN.

And sleeping in a tent, in a toaster oven, gets unbearable by six a.m.  So each day the kids, the pets and I loaded up our picnic and headed for higher ground.  The property is at 4000 ft elevation, so the only higher ground around was Lassen Volcanic National Park, not far up the road, and beyond that Hat Creek and Burney Falls recreation areas where we spent the next week.  We lazed in the lake by day, then headed back to the property around seven p.m., just in time for the air to become almost tolerable to these poor Alaskan kids who thought California was trying to kill them.

Clearly, camping out on the property and rebuilding was not going to work this time of year. So when my cousin, Tina, told me one night, “Go to Roseburg, my cabin is empty,” we were packed and out of there in ten minutes flat.  Off to Oregon we went.

(Backstory: I didn’t grow up around my family. Born in Roseburg, Oregon, as were my parents, my grandparents and my great-grand parents, we moved to Alaska when I was eight. I have a giant extended family in the Roseburg, Glide, Cottage Grove, Oregon area and I know about six of them.)

We spent five days in Roseburg at my cousins place which sits behind her folks house, overlooking the city. They have a pool, so it’s a wonder we ever left. We went to our first ever baseball game, met some cousins, swam in the pool and soaked up the hospitality. The husband flew in from work and we headed over to Pacific City on the coast where we were again spoiled by some old neighbors of ours who have retired at their beach cabin a couple blocks from the beach. It pays to have friends and relatives in ‘high’ places, or at least with swimming pools and beach cabins.

While on the coast, pondering our next move and wondering how long we could live in tents on friends and relatives good nature, we went down to a camp trailer dealer and impulsively bought a 30ft motorhome. A 1996 with only 27,000 miles on it, we got it super cheap and felt good about the decision.  Homeless no more, we headed south back to Redding to spend July 4th with the husband family where all four of his sisters had gathered at his moms.

Back into the firepits of Redding we went, though this time armed with air conditioning. We felt like we were on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, rolling down the road in style rather than our 91’ E350 van with the rusted roof and nonexistent air conditioning. Yes, Mother, I know there are starving children in Africa, but I’m Alaskan and I need my coolant.

After the 4th we dropped the husband down at the Sacramento airport and a couple days later we headed back up here to Roseburg so we could again lounge in my aunts pool. I’m not sure how long she will put up with us, but I have Steven mowing her lawn now and Mya cleaned her living room. With three kids left to do chores, I figure we will last through the weekend.

Our next stop is Portland again, then over to Tillamook where my DAUGHTER, HEATHER, IS GETTING MARRIED on July 25th! And then who knows.

After two months of answering Craigslist ads, we have discovered something definitive. NOBODY wants to rent to a family with 5 teenagers, 3 dogs and 3 cats. Hence the motorhome purchase. We like the looks of a Lake Havasu, Arizona snowbird rental where we can get a house with a pool and experience city life for a while.  Though we don’t actually like to spend any money…so…

But what we have really figured out…is that maybe we don’t want to settle in somewhere. Maybe the open road, an open atlas, and an open mind is the best option for now.

 

 

 

 

What They Did To Me Bum…

If you’ve not been following the sage of the bear/boys/bum injury, here’s a couple of links:

Bear In The Back Woods

Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’

Last week I went in for an MRI at the request of our local clinic doc here in Ninilchik who took one look at this bruising and said, “How long did you wait to come see me?” shaking her head and pursing her lips like my mother when I was a teenager.

Bruise

 

The MRI tech gave me a similar head shake and “Oh My Goodness, honey,” and sent me to an Orthopedics fellow in Homer. But before I could even get to his office he called me, said he’d reviewed my MRI, it wasn’t something he could fix, and he shuffled me off to Anchorage.

Monday the husband drove me up to Anchorage, about a four hour drive, to meet with Dr. Powell, orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed me before I even left the waiting room based on the way I was hanging half my ass off the edge of the hard plastic chair.

“We’ll do the surgery tomorrow,” he said. “The sooner the better before it gets worse.”

Come to find out, two of the three tendons that hold the hamstring to the pelvic bone had ripped clean off and were just dangling around in the back of my thigh.  Ouch, is right. The fear is, if left too long the nerves can get all twisted into the mess and cause permanent damage. We can’t have that, can we?

So Tuesday morning at eleven I arrived at the Anchorage Spine Center for my appointment where I was promptly given my very own open backed blue gown, fuzzy socks, and a hair net.  A good look for me, I think.

6785

Here is a link describing the surgery they performed, complete with gory pictures and what appear to be forks ripping into the thigh. I’m pretending mine was much prettier. SURGERY LINK

Apparently what they did was slit a hole across the bottom of my right butt cheek from inner to outer thigh, somewhere around 6 inches across. I’ve not seen it yet, it’s well packaged up. But boy, can I feel it.

Then they fished around until they found the dangling tendons and hamstring so they could reattach the little buggers.  They drilled HOLES in my pelvic bone and hooked the tendons in place with some kind of super strong wires, then sewed the whole mess back up.

Then an hour later they stuck me on crutches for the first time and sent me on my way.  No dilly-dallying around the hospital these days.  Just a few crackers and you’re outta there.

6786

The husband planted me in a hotel room with flowers, peach yogurt, crackers and my cell phone. He knows me so well. And we spent the night in neighboring beds, him snoring, me whining, and then after a checkup with the doc, we drove home today.

I’ve been instructed in no uncertain terms by Dr. Powell to lay here in this bed in the middle of the cabin for the next six weeks.  I’m not to use my right leg, not to hop around trying to do things for myself or others and I’m not under any circumstances to chase any more bears.

6787
My view for the next six weeks…

I think I can follow thru with most of that.

I’m not gonna lie…I’m in a lot of pain. The meds they gave me make me sweat a lot and my breathing feels funny, if I take the full dose so I cut myself back to half which controls the pain, but doesn’t take it away by a long shot.

We were brought a halibut dinner by one dear lady, another came and picked up the boys for an overnighter, the girls are gone and the husband went right out to push some more gravel onto our driveway before the sun set.  So I’m alone in my little bed we put it the middle of the cabin, wincing at the pain and trying to look at the brighter side of things.

I aint dead.  I’ll get out of dishes for the next six weeks. And as was pointed out by so many readers…at least I’ll have more time to write.

 

 

 

Fishing For Elders

1007

Yesterday the kids and I found ourselves on the Ninilchik beach helping pull king salmon from the water to feed some of the village elders.

Here on this same beach many years back, the natives of Ninilchik built fish traps and pulled nets much like us, feeding their families before there were grocery stores to ease the burden.  They relied on the water for survival, taking only as much as they needed and using all that they took, down to the last piece.

It was a privilege to take part in providing a feast for those who can no longer do it themselves. Those who carried on the traditions of their people and lived to teach the next generation how to live from the land.

We pulled six King salmon from the net in just a few hours. The kids tied knots, pulled nets, learned some good things and laughed while doing it. It was a good day.

999

1000

1001

1003

1004

1005

1006

1007

1008

1009

1010

1011

1012

1013

1014

1015

1016

1017

1018

1019

1020

 

 

 

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 5-18-14

Driving through British Columbia and Yukon Territory is like breaking into a zoo after hours and tearing down the fences. Animals roam everywhere, seeming to prefer the middle of the Alcan highway.  It helps to break up the monotony of the 40 hours of driving it takes to make it from Seattle to the Alaskan border.

999
WE LOVE VISITING CANADA!
1000
Caribou wandering about…
1001
Big Daddy Stone Sheep…
1002
Stone Sheep
1003
Little Baby Stone Sheep!!! Could they BE any cuter?
1004
Yep, still cute!
1005
Hundreds of bison roam along the highway….
1006
Big Ol’ Bison
1007
Scraggly black bear!
1008
Blackie
1009
Elk are very curious!
1010
Almost missed the shot of this beautiful black wolf in Yukon Territory. Snapped this through the window, then stopped, got out of truck, lined up to take another shot, and he disappeared into the woods while I lined up. Fantastic.
1011
Only one moose the entire way through Canada!
1012
Caribou
1013
Caribou Crossing

May 17, 2014

1002

After spending six months pretending we were on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, the adjustment back to cabin life has been a bit of shell shock. Frozen water pipes and batteries didn’t help to ease us back into the woods with grace, but rather encouraged tantrums and big-baby-fits by all. We’ve since gotten the water to thaw and flow enough to trigger the on-demand-hot-water-heater we adore, giving us a trickle of a shower…even if it is in the dark.

With four dead batteries running 400 bucks each, we’re back to flashlights and kerosene these days while we await a couple of paychecks and recuperate from the $7 per gallon fuel on the return trip through Canada. Life on the road is expensive. Multiply it times five kids, three dogs, two cats, six months and a fuel guzzling diesel, you’ve got one mighty spendy trip. Who needs retirement, anyway?

And so a flashlight dangles from a nail just above the shower wall, a magnetic flashlight shines across my cook top and a lantern sits upon the counter waiting for the Alaska midnight sun to fade beyond the volcano dotted skyline before being lit.

It’s just before one a.m. and since a gaggle of giggling teenagers are sleeping in a tent on my back forty, I’m awake and on guard. Cooked by flashlight, I’m devouring a mushroom/egg breakfast burrito in the dark while typing away on my laptop with exactly 13 minutes remaining before I fade into the dark, just me at the distant giggle of girls in the woods.

It’s good to be here, though, despite the trials of adjustment.  And as life gets back to normal and our spoiled selves get back in tune with the difference between want and need, I’m sure we’ll remember why we came out here to the woods.  I’m sure of it…any day now.  Six minutes of battery life….goodnight.

 

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 3-9-14

535
Abandoned Mine

534

536
Carlsbad Caverns
537
Carlsbad Caverns New Mexico
538
Carlsbad Caverns New Mexico
539
Carlsbad Caverns New Mexico
540
A Friendly Mule along the way…
541
I took 1264 pictures of the Utah desert…this pretty much sums up how cool it is.
542
Somewhere in Utah
543
And more Utah
544
Love all the old buildings here in Utah
545
Right…like anyone is going to pay attention to the foreboding sign over the door…
546
I love how these trees thrive despite the obstacles.
547
Sent the husband up on this rock to dig a bone out from between the cracks…it’s a whole big bone story…
548
Cacti…
549
We hiked to the top of this mountain…no trails hikes are the best.
550
We visited some ghost towns and the kids noticed most of the headstones are of children.
551
The kids really respect the cemeteries…I’m so glad of that.
552
What’s of some of these towns from more than 100 years ago.
553
Silver Mine Kilns I think…
554
Impressive amount of work went into building these structures that lasted so long.
555
The boys LOVE the rock hounding.
556
Acres and acres of this at these old town sites.

Dreams Delayed

Me Graduation

In the spring of ’03 I had just finished up the third year of my writing degree at Linfield College. My fellow students were planning their summer vacations, jobs, going home to a family.

I was raising one.

One morning my professor handed me a piece of paper with a circled ad.  It was for an internship at a publishing house in Portland.  ‘Apply for it,’ he said, emphatic.  And so I did.

I can still smell the copy and bindings, slick sheets of creamy paper heaped on desks, shelves to the ceiling, books and boxes piled high.  I wore borrowed slacks and stumbled through my first, and only, real interview at thirty-two years old.  They hated me, I just knew it. Before I got home there was an email waiting, asking when could I start.

I came from my computer elated, floated into the living room excited to tell the news.  I remember this moment like it wasn’t eleven years ago. People always remember the moment their lives changed.

But I remember the moment mine didn’t.

Because when I walked into the living room all seven of the children who lived with me sat. Sixteen, fifteen, twelve, ten, nine, six, and four years old, all flopped down on the floor watching Blue’s Clues, heads turning to me because that’s how we were, them and I.  And I knew. I knew I couldn’t take it.

Forget that over half of them were special needs. Forget the diagnoses, the histories of some of my kids. Discounting the DD, FAS, ODD, RAD, SID and every other acronym bombarding them.  Forget the caseworkers, the visitations, the court cases and eminent reunification or adoptions. Forget the turn-of-century house remodel and the husband who already carried me. Heaving that heavy load aside…I could have made it work.  Maybe I could have anyway. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the forty hours a week, unpaid  internship that I couldn’t accept…would have changed the course of my life. I would have walked away with an education college couldn’t offer and the experience to maybe land the job of my dreams. I would have walked away with connections. I would have walked away with a different life. Better? I don’t know. Maybe just different.

It’s the proverbial fork in the road where we are forced to choose a path and sometimes we have to take the paved route. Not easier. Certainly not easier. But smoother…for those along for the ride.

And you will say, ‘Oh,Keri…but look at the lives you’ve changed with your kids…and how you’ve built a family…and how they love you. Blah…blah blah…” And I know. Life is about choices and at that moment, those kids needed me more. I know this is true and I pat myself on the back when nobody is looking but sometimes… I just want it to be about me.

Sometimes I want to climb to the top of the laundry heap and scream, “When? When is it my turn?”

Oh, but if I’d chosen that rutted, twisted path through the woods, how different things might have been. And most days…honestly…I’m tempted to trade a kid or two for the chance to find out.

And the husband says to me, “We’re almost there…hold on…” But I fear, in the deepest part of me, that he is wrong.

 

 

 

 

My Kids Aren’t Learning Anything

998785

“Mom, I need some more language arts worksheets printed,” said my nearly 15 year old this morning, who needs her world aligned at all times or she gets frantic. Order, structure, neatly stapled packets are a dream come true and the chance to organize canned foods makes her heart go pitter-patter.

“We’re not doing any worksheets today,” I said. “We’re going to clean the kitchen and then we’re going looking for those alligators.”

“But then we’re not learning anything!” she scowled.

The rest of the kids chimed in, ‘We’re not learning anything at all today?” they asked.  Because apparently if we’re not sitting with a worksheet or text in front of us, we’re not, “doing school” according to my kids.  Huh.

But what my kids don’t realize is while they think they lucked out with less often serious, sit-down-studies, I’ve orchestrated a well-planned winter of intensive education…and they don’t even know it.

998784

We drove the famous Alaska/Canada highway, studying the history of its making and involvement in the war along the way. We’ve extensively studied maps, planned routes, learned geography, stood in the ocean and wondered how far from home we were, then calculated it.  We’ve budgeted, planned, mapped and learned to live with only what we can fit in a duffle bag.  We learned how to traverse the metric system, calculate for kilometers, compute gas mileage and we know why the exchange rate is so poor.

Because we have talked about everything, continually, along the way.

998789

We spent a day at a Japanese Internment camp where people were caged by their own government for their ‘own protection’ And for a couple of hours  my children saw life from a perspective they couldn’t have gained from any well written book because standing in those shoes is an irreplaceable feeling.  Standing over the graves, wandering the original buildings, searching the wall of names, and just being there. They will never forget that day.

But my kids think they aren’t learning anything.

998791

We explored a Railroad museum in the desert where we learned about turn of the century farming, the expansion of the rail system across the U.S. and the impact of that expansion on industry. We stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, walked the streets of Tombstone, Arizona and explored the museums and history of the wildwest in every town along the way. We saw the inner workings of a gold mining shaft, rode a subway in downtown Los Angeles, looked across the Rio Grande in to Mexico from the sanctity of U.S. soil and talked about how their lives differed from ours. We determined rock classifications in the desert (is ignoramous a rock?), climbed lava formations, crawled through caves, and looked for gold in dry creek beds of Texas and Arizona.  We’ve found fossils, shells, arrow heads, uncountable bones and even petrified wood.  We’ve seen dolphins leap through the water and jelly fish float the surface.  And one of my favorites, we’ve stood at the feet of the Bristle Cone Pine.

But my kids think they aren’t learning anything.

9989 (2)

For three months my family, that hasn’t always been a family…these children, who haven’t always been siblings…have been together.  They’ve been loved by aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma’s they never knew existed. They’ve bonded in ways only a road trip can offer, supported each other, defended each other and learned more about each other than they could have had they spent seven hours a day in separate classrooms, in separate schools or in my kids circumstance…separate families.  And though we could all use some time apart…believe me…they’ve become closer as a family than ever.

But my kids think they aren’t learning anything.

534

We’ve been to more museums, historical monuments and interactive science centers than we ever thought possible…and we’re not done.  We found starfish and sea creatures in the surf of California, felt the intimidation of gang members on the streets in passing, we witnessed the homeless on every corner and talked about the ‘Why’ of it all. We took advantage of having television in some of our stops to watch documentaries on the Depression, The Orphan Trains, Eleanor Roosevelt, The Dust Bowl, and The New Deal. Ask them about the KKK in the 1930’s, or the Union Strikes and why they happened, they can tell you.  We found how-to art videos on Youtube and learned how to draw faces, then practiced, together, for weeks while relaxing in the cabin up the Frio River here in Texas where Mya discovered a love of art she didn’t know she had and Robin lost herself in water color painting she’d never even tried before.

But my kids think they aren’t learning anything.

We’ve walked the beaches, ridden our bikes, looked for turtles along the piers. We’ve been inside crumbling Indian ruins, hiked red cliffs and touched cactus to find out why we shouldn’t. We climbed through a crystal cave, saw wild pigs, dodged thousands of deer and when the car ride became too boring, we searched all day for the elusive Northern California Zebra, to no avail.

998776

We’ve met people from all over the world, of different nations and skin color and religious background. We’ve made friendships with strangers and talked hours with elderly, so full of history and knowledge, that their time is invaluable. We’ve learned how to budget. How to make money last. How to feed an entire family on JackInTheBox tacos.

And my kids still think they aren’t learning anything.

998783

They don’t realize that I carefully filled their Nooks with classics and stuck them in a truck for 5000 miles.  And yes, somewhere in our spare time we’ve squeezed in ‘actual’ school work. When the weather keeps us inside we cram as much math, grammar, writing and science in as we can. And when the sun comes out, we sometimes multitask and study in the fresh air. Three of the kids completed 12 weeks of online creative writing workshop they liked so much it didn’t seem like ‘school’. The boys are teaching themselves how to code on their laptop, hoping to invent a million dollar video game and they all fight over computer time so they can earn badges doing math on Khan Academy. Mya is obsessed with her science class, which is her new favorite subject and racing to finish the year early, while Robin is elated to have finally found a math program she likes on the shelves of a thrift store and percentages are no longer her nemesis.

Yet, they still think they aren’t learning anything.

998792

Next week we head to Utah where we will be within a short drive of six ghost towns, abandoned mines and high desert terrain to explore.  Along the way we’ll hit the Alamo, a Marine Animal park, Carlsbad Caverns, several historical military and geological sites as well as another glimpse at some Indian ruins and the Grand Canyon.  I’m sure they won’t learn a thing there either and it will all be a big waste of time as they get further and further behind on their education because they haven’t memorized Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species like I did in ninth grade…though, the only time that knowledge has ever served me is in this sentence.

Yes, it’s really too bad my kids aren’t learning anything.

998790

Just Another Scenic Sunday 2-16-2014

9988
Cutie Birds on the Boardwalk
9989
SISTERS!
9990
Sunset Pelican
9991
Steven Skates the Bowl
9992
Luke…the reason they make helmets…
9993
Robin wanted to try skating…
9994
But her skateboard didn’t want to play…
9995
Anthony HAWK rides again…
9996
Anthony Hawk…trying to live up to his namesake
9997
And not quite making it…
9998
No Riley’s participated in the making of this awesome sand castle…
9999
Valentines Day evening on the beach…
9988 (2)
SURF OR DIE!!!
9989 (2)
Cute puppy on the beach!
998776
Yep…another bird.
998777
Mya carrying my backpack…
998778
Lunch
998779
Shell?
998780
Mya threw this fish back into the water to save it…and this guy scooped it up right in front of us.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 2-9-2014

HUGE Scenic Sunday full of BIRDS! And some Dolphins. And other stuff too.

9988
Dolphins leading the ship from the harbor…
9989
Dolphins SO cute!
9990
And look, there they are again!
9991
Me, the husband, and this beach to ourselves all day long…
9992
Enough garbage washed up on this beach to fill a landfill. It was 99% plastics and pretty sad.
9993
The whole beach, for miles, is lined like this.
9994
This clam is happy it’s almost Valentines Day…
9995
TONS of starfish…
9996
Who thinks this pier looks like a scene from Zelda?
9997
And when the boat came through the fog to get us…we were a bit disappointed.
9988
Fellow survivors!
9989
Steven loves the sand!
9990
Them are some long legs.
9991
Pretty, yes?
9992
And away!
9993
Along came a black bird…
9994
RUN!
9995
Grumpy Guy….
9996
He seemed a bit aggressive…
9997
Close up
9998
And this is when he charged….
9999
Take off
10000
How YOU doin’?
10001
These guys were huge.
10002
They don’t want to share with the fishermen…
10003
Look how big he is! This fellow was putting on a show for us.
10004
Ya put your right foot in…ya put your right foot out…
10005
There’s only room in this bed for one dog…
9988
The Birds.
9989
And some more birds.
9990
Turn to the RIGHT…
9991
And some more birds…
9992
Guess what…birds!
9993
I love the way they all face into the wind.
9994
Cuties.
9995
Collisions.
9997
And this is seconds before I got an ear full of salt water.
9998
And one last picture of…birds.

Must Be Nice To Vacation All The Time…

987667

I’ve been asked the same question many times these past months as we travel.

“How are you affording to do this? Must be nice to vacation all the time…”

There is no secret. We’ve not a pot-o-gold buried on our back forty and we’ve no inheritance paving our way across the western U.S. The fact is we simply have very little bills. This was no accident and it certainly did not come easy.

My husband snores soft, oblivious, as I type next to him now because he woke yesterday morning in the arctic at 4:30 a.m. and worked most of the day. He flew to Anchorage, took our daughter to dinner and filled her gas tank.  He caught a midnight flight to Denver, sat in the airport for three hours, then flew to Texas and drove three hours more to our rented condo before finally dozing off just minutes ago. Somewhere in that he took me to dinner and listened to me ramble on, because I’d been without adult conversation for two weeks. That’s 42 hours mostly awake after working about 170 hours in the past two weeks.  And in twelve days he’ll do it all again.

Plenty of people work long hours, sacrifice for their families. Many far more than us. But somewhere along the way we made a choice to do things a little differently. We sacrificed in a different way than many and now, with this big trip, we are finally seeing the fruit of our labor. And I’ll not lie, the taste is sweet and I think…well earned.

We gave up all credit cards about eight years ago; forwent years of vacations; haven’t bought a ‘new’ car since 1993 and we still drive that same old truck. We’ve never bought a house that wasn’t a fixer-upper. Last year we gave up our big house, the luxury of public utilities and for a while, we even gave up having a toilet. No big deal, really, where we come from. Plenty of people live that way for a lot longer than us and are three times as tough.

Most of our things came from dusty shelves tucked in the back of second hand stores.  The art on my walls was painted by my mom. Our furniture is second hand and save for our winter gear, our clothes are mostly fabulous thrift store finds.  Twice a year we all get new tennis shoes and my obsession with Arc’teryx sweaters and Sporthill gear has landed me in the poor house once or twice but for the most part, we live frugal.

We don’t stray far from home. Our weakness is eating out and we normally share a meal. Once or twice a year we find ourselves in Anchorage overnight and splurge on a hotel room. Woohoo. While my friends take annual girl trips to warm places and I yearn to tag along, I suck it up and stay home.  Honestly, I hate that.

Sometimes I want to go back to the Visa life, splurge and purge, splurge and purge.  Several of my friends are able to do these things without immersing themselves in debt because they work hard and smart.  They made good choices from a young age. I try now to model myself after those people and wish I’d known then what I know now. Live and learn.

It’s a good life. I’m not complaining at all, just shining a light on the ‘how’ of it all.

We didn’t do all this just because we are somehow invested in making our lives more difficult.  We did these things because we had a vision. A vision of a life not shackled to debt, or a false sense of responsibility to a life we didn’t particularly enjoy in the first place. I don’t mean that in a ‘hippy-freak-bra-burning’ sort of way.  We just had a longing for something different.  We made a list of what we had to do to achieve our goals. And we did them.

And then we lived our life with purpose.

So when we found ourselves in the odd predicament of being somewhat homeless when winter in Alaska rolled around and our cabin wasn’t quite up to snuff, we weren’t in a bind. We weren’t scrambling to pull cash off credit cards to pay two mortgages.  We didn’t panic and take our big house back from the renters.  We said, “Hey…let’s take the kids on a big ol’ trip!”

And so we did.

It’s not cheap to travel but we’ve learned to skimp. We camp a lot, take full advantage of all willing relatives, and can make sixteen peanut-butter sandwiches on the go with nothing but a dirty pocket knife and a dog to lick it clean.

And now the money most people spend on a mortgage and car payment, we put into campgrounds and national park admissions. The dollars most spend just to keep four walls around them…we save, and escape those same walls.

It’s a choice we made and so far, a good one. Ask me again in the spring when we’ve no money saved to work our land and I may tell another story but for now we’re living the dream and I’m not quite ready to wake. And yes…it is nice to vacation ‘all the time’.

 

 

On The Road From Concan

Beezy In Hotel

This morning the kids and I planned to wake early and leave our little cabin up the Frio River here in Texas. Yesterday we packed the pop-up, cleaned up the cabin completely, and left out only our duffle bags and breakfast food.

Upon waking, I encountered a site that the family, as a whole, has sworn to never discuss either in public or private. Let’s just say there were two rolls of paper towels, bleach and a trip to the Laundromat involved before we could even eat our oatmeal. And that’s all we’ll say about that. Whatever you think happened, multiply it times ten.

I threw up a post on Facebook about how the day could only get better from there, a statement one should never say out loud, and headed down the road towards the beaches of Texas.

Now, we were in the “mountains” so to speak, up the Frio River in Concan. So as we headed south, the heat hit, and clothes started coming off. Windows cranked down, (all six of them) hair frizzing in the damp heat, air condition pumped up even though it doesn’t work and only blew more warm air, as we drove a couple of hours south.  We don’t really understand the term “Winter” as it applies here in Texas. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

I pulled into a Walmart Parking lot in Jourdanton, Texas to pick up some water bottles and walk the dogs. Turns out, I waited a bit too long to stop.  I pulled open the back hatch of the camper shell and the stench emitting from inside told the story. Beezy…had let loose. All. Over. The Place.

I pulled the two dogs from the back and quickly unhooked leashes they’d dragged through the poo, dropping them in a pile while Mya hooked the longer cable to each collar. I stared into the back of the truck. The kids stared at me. We all wondered the same thing…Just how much could we get for it right here in the Walmart parking lot?

As I yelled out orders, my feet began to burn. What the…?  I looked down at my flip-flops to find my bare feet completely coated in tiny ants.

And then I did the very volatile “ants-on-me” dance while strings of filth flew from my mouth. I don’t feel even God would judge me for that one.

I bolted into Walmart, eyes focused on the Pharmacy signs, found the nearest fellow in white and whined until he pulled a salve off the shelf. And then I did some more dancing while he told me at length…in monotone…how and why the salve works for what I now know are Texas Fire Ants, better known to me as Evil Ants from Hades.

Armed with the salve of my salvation, a case of paper towels and a fierce frustration with my day, I went back to the truck to begin to clean.

“Did you guys pick up those leashes?” I asked the kids when I noticed the crap-covered leashes I’d left near the lawn were gone.  They stared at me because that’s what kids do when asked such complicated questions.

Apparently, while I was inside the Walmart, somebody had stolen our leashes from the ground.

Our stinking, crap-coated, dollar-ninety-nine leashes had been swiped by somebody who in order to not be seen, would have had to stop their car, quickly reach out and grab the pile from the ground.

Leashes that from a distance I’m sure looked clean to the fast handed thief…but were actually covered in shit.

And that, my friends, is Karma.

An hour later, my feet smeared in gel, dogs somewhat cleaned up and leashless, we moved back on down the road.

We hit the Texas coast just before sundown and went straight to the campground we’d plan to use. But everybody else in Texas had gotten there first because apparently, the weekend of Super Bowl Sunday is a national holiday in Texas and folks flock in droves to the nearest resort area.

I checked us into the only hotel that takes dogs, thankful the room has a tile floor…just in case…and hit the hotel hot tub. And now I’m sipping on the Budweiser they gave me at check-in…that’s right, I was offered a complimentary beer from the front counter girl…and wondering what we’ll do next.

Y’All Come Back Now, Y’Hear?

9987

 “Whaaaat the blaaaazes are Y’ALL doing in Teeeexas?” I keep hearing over and over.

Well, they don’t say it like that exactly, but my ears have been Texasized now so that’s how I hear it. Plus, I really like to use my new accent, even if it is just in type.

Okay, here’s how it went down. This is mostly true with some exaggeration. (I am in Texas, after all…)

As most of you know, we left Alaska near the end of November, headed towards grandma in California.  We wanted to see a bit of the world. We wanted to visit with loved ones we rarely see.  And we wanted to get the heck outta the ice.  That and our cabin was not winter ready, blah, blah, blah. (click here for more on that) So we left.

IF I were smart, I would have journaled this entire trip.  I didn’t.  Hey, I’m on vacation.

So here is the paraphrased version:

We drove from Alaska to Northern California in a week, covering just over 3000 miles. The husband still has a job to go to, so he had to catch a flight back north that Saturday. We spent a week with grandma, making her crazier than she already was, no doubt. The kids and I hit the road north to Oregon to see some family in Portland, including our oldest daughter, Heather and her man, Andrew.  We hit some thrift stores in Portland; spent a day at OMSI loving science; loved on my cousins beautiful family and took advantage of their hospitality. We went over to the Oregon coast and ate some icecream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, then headed down the 101 intending to weave all the way down, hit the Redwood forest and be in Sacramento in time to pick up the husband from the airport. Plans changed when my truck broke down near Pacific City in the dark, narrow highway. Old friends, just nine miles away, saved the day and AAA paid off.  We spent three days camping in our friend’s driveway in the SNOW at the beach. We ate, we visited, we ate some more. The truck was fixed up for far less money than originally assumed and we hit the road again. Thinking there wasn’t time to make the Sacramento airport, I told the husband to get off the plane in Portland and headed back to my cousins. But my cousin, more wise to Oregon weather than I, said, “I love you, but leave.” So we hit the I-5 south, only stopping for pizza my aunt and uncle delivered roadside, and made it over the Siskiyou Mountains before another storm hit. Thanks cuz.

The husband came home and said, “Let’s go see some stuff.”  So we packed up the next day and drove straight across highway 44 to Reno where we spent two days throwing money away at Circus Circus, shoving quarters in as fast as we could.  Enough about that. We then went south on the 395, spending four days haunting museums, exploring the desert, and looking for abandoned mine shafts.  Japanese internment camp; railroad museum; desert museums; rock formations galore…it was a semester of history and science education in three days. It was awesome.

Meanwhile, grandma had driven down to spend the holidays at my sister-in-laws in Palmdale, CA and we were greeted with open arms by a slew of relatives.  Again, we shipped the husband off to earn the mighty dollar. Poor Dan. The family took us to experience thrift store shopping; a first train ride; daring the Los Angeles subway system; to City Walk at Universal Studios; to Ventura Beach; and treated us to Starbucks coffees galore.  We ate, and we ate some more. We had a heck of a time with the family. The husband came home and brought with him our son, Billy. We spent two days at Knotts Berry farm because Disneyland was out of the budget, and it was good times had by all.

What now, we wondered. A reader offered us a free place to stay in Texas. Texas? What the heck…Texas?  We came this far…why not?

And so we went east.

We went to the Grand Canyon then south through Flagstaff. We bypassed Phoenix because I lived there once when I was a pregnant/married/ignorant/teenager and I didn’t care to relive that insanity. Onward through Tucson to spend a day at Tombstone then across the I-10 through a thousand miles of desert, across New Mexico and into Texas. Whew.

Upon arrival we discovered the offered abode had been vandalized. Refrigerator full of maggots, mold, messes left behind by teenage burglars.  Discouraged, I pouted. My kids rolled up their sleeves and began to clean and I followed their lead because my kids are mostly awesome part of the time. Three days in we decided it just wasn’t going to come together and were directed by a nice lady realtor to a cabin up the Frio River, some 80 miles further up the road. And so we went east again.

Life goes in circles sometimes. Ours has taken us a full 4,287 miles, and landed us again in a little cabin in the woods. By day we explore the dry river beds, do a little school work and cook ribs on the porch in our flip flops and shorts. By night we bundle in for a dvd and butter coated popcorn.  It’s a rough life being a Winter Texan.

It’s odd, this feeling of freedom that comes with the nomadic life. Sometimes it’s troubling not knowing what the next day will bring. But then I just slam back some sweet tea, turn on the barbecue, and it all just melts away.

NEXT STOP….The beaches of Southern Texas. Stay tuned!

Just Another Scenic Sunday 01-19-2014

10014
Kids in front of Downtown Disney, drooling and wishing they were inside. We’ll go before we return to Alaska in the spring.
9988
Prickly tree near Knotts
9990
Mya being a puffer fish
9991
The Boys at the pool at Knotts Berry Farm
9992
Billy plays spring board for Robin
9993
Billy and Robin doing tricks
9994
Riding the roller coasters at Knotts Berry Farm
9997
Roller Coasters at Knotts
9998
Our favorite ride…the rafting trip!
9999
Rafting Ride
10002
Mya being a ‘lady’…
10003
Anthony being a ‘ladies man”…
10005
Billy’s arrival…reuniting with his cat, Fraidy…
10007
Grand Canyon, looking poised as always…
10008
This Six Door at the Grand Canyon…
10009
What ALL OF SOUTHERN ARIZONA…NEW MEXICO…AND TEXAS LOOK LIKE!
10011
Found this heart trunk tree while rock hunting up a dry river bed…
10012
Mya making dinner tonight….
10013
The kids loved the sites in L.A.
10015
Brotherly love…
10016
The Flinstone park near the Grand Canyon…
10018
Tombstone, Arizona
10019
Sometimes in the desert, the wind blows…
10020
Robins near-death-experience at the Grand Canyon (Disclaimer: no children were injured during the making of this picture…)
10021
Grand Canyon
10022
Grand Canyon
10024
Cemetery at Tombstone, Arizona
10026
Cemetery at Tombstone, Arizona
10027
Tombstone, Arizona
10029
1300 miles from California to Texas…

Just Another Scenic Sunday 01-05-2014

9987
Placerita Canyon, California at the “waterfall”. Not.
9988
Kids had their FIRST ICE CREAM TRUCK EXPERIENCE! And learned about false advertising…
9989
Went swimming the day after Christmas…that’s just weird.
9990
Kids and cousins sporting their “Grammy Jammy’s”!
9991
Robin
9992
We took a subway at Union Station in downtown L.A. That was an experience…
9993
Universal Studies “City Walk” We couldn’t afford to go inside…so we walked around outside and gawked. hahaa
9995
Outside Universal Studios wishing we could afford to go inside. haha
9996
This is what teenagers do…. SELFIES!
10004
This is what I do.
10005
Red Rock Canyon, California.
10006
Boo boo and Luke and Red Rock
10007
The family hiking at Red Rock. We don’t like trails…
10008
Discovering a cactus…
10009
Discovering why you AREN’T SUPPOSED TO TOUCH THE CACTUS!
10010
Robin at Red Rock
10011
Mya, Bagel and Luke hiking at Red Rock
10012
Flower down on Olvero Street in L.A.
10013
Union Station, L.A.
9987
You don’t see veggie bins like this in Alaska!!!!
9988
The husband turned OLD. Robin filled his bed in the trailer with balloons…and a plastic snake. Bwahahahahhahaa
9989
Luke got a haircut from somebody besides Grandma and didn’t like it one bit.
9987
Luke sleeps in a zoo.
9988
We splurged at a crab shack this week at Ventura Beach. I pigged out.
9989
Crab plates…we can’t afford to eat the rest of the week, but it was fun. 😉 ha
9991
Steven at Ventura, CA beach
9994
Ventura Harbor
9995
Sparklers…and playing with the exposure time.
9997
Ventura Beach…Mya makes faces at the camera. It’s what she does.
9998
Steven at Ventura Beach
9999
Luke lounging in the surf.
10001
This shows the boys personalities. Luke is drenched…Anthony is trying everything NOT to get wet.
10003
Anthony at Ventura Beach.
10004
And the surf snuck up on him…I totally saw it coming.
10005
And finally, he’s wet.
10007
I TOLD you Mya makes faces at the camera…
10008
These boys are so happy.
10009
Discoveries in the sand.
10010
And we all got a ‘contact high’ standing next to this truck…
10011
Ventura Harbor
10012
Ventura Harbor

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 12-15-2013

This week we traveled over to Reno, spent two nights at Circus Circus in their mid-week absurdly cheap rooms, then we headed down the 395, eager to get out of the city. We camped two nights and spent three days between Reno and Mohave, landing tonight in a hotel because seriously….we were filthy and tired. Too tired to post more than pics…but then again, it is just a Scenic Sunday.

THIS WEEK WE…

9987
Were busted by hotel security while descending 22 flights of stairs…
9988
Discovered Robin is super good at the Jump Rope game…
9989
Learned how to feed a family on appetizer plates…
9994
Enjoyed life in a pop-up trailer…
9995
Snapped pictures of the girls sleeping…
9998
Found some friendly horses…
9999
And wished they were ours….
10000
Luke at the Laws Railroad Museum
10001
Robin, Laws Railroad Museum (which we LOVED LOVED LOVED)
10007
After three days of camping…we NEEDED this.
10004
What trailer life is REALLY like…
10008
Laws Railroad Museum
10009
Laws Railroad Museum
10010
Horse Nose…just because.
10012
Random Horses
10013
Laws Railroad Museum
10014
Laws Railroad Museum
10015
Laws Railroad Museum
10016
Anthony has a thing for hearts…
10017
At the Japanese Internment Camp….which we LOVED to visit and learn from.
10018
Manzanar (Loved this place)
10019
More History education this week than all last school year. Love it.
10021
Somewhere near Lonepine, CA
10022
Remnants of the past at Manzanar National Park
10023
Boys were enthralled with this dried up drainage bed.
10024
Walking the barbed wire fence at the internment camp.
10025
Memorial stone at Internment Camp
10026
Cemetery at Internment Camp
10027
Father and Son
10028
Robin, WHINE, Snivel, It’s TOOO HOT!
10029
Dome at Fossil Falls
10031
Luke and Fossil Falls
10033
No, this picture is NOT upside down. Robin, Robin, Robin…
10034
Luke, Fossil Falls
10035
Somewhere south of Lone Pine, CA
10036
The scary road the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Forest
10038
A Bristle Cone Pine, ancient tree….so cool to stand among these.
10039
Sun at Ancient Forest
10040
Six Door at the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Forest
10041
At Manzanar
10043
Down in the rocks at Fossil Falls

Just Another Scenic Sunday 12-18-13

9987
Cousin, Mary….”I dare you to take me out of this sink…”
9988
I can’t stop taking pictures of Mary…
9990
COUSINS!!!!
9991
Bagel and Beezie are SO happy to be be out of the truck!!
9994
Booboo…FREE AT LAST!
9995
Enjoying the beach, despite the snow!
9996
“Put me back in that truck and see what happens…”
9997
Mya and her babies…
9998
Luke on the beach…
9999
Anthony on the beach…
10000
Mya enjoying quiet time with her dogs…
10001
Robin and Beezie…
10003
Bagel
10004
Snow angels in the snow/sand…
10005
Snow/sand angel

9988
Discount wine…
9989
Sister time with Mya and Heather…
9990
THRIFT STORE SHOPPING!!!
9991
My beautiful cousin Mary!!!!
9992
When you tell a two-year-old to smile…
9993
Anthony and Heathers man, Andrew playing Wii U. Who’s having more fun?
9994
Tillamook Cheese Factory…
9995
Popup trailer getting smaller by the day…
9996
Boys at the Beach for…
9997
Our gracious hosts and old friends, Larry and Patti, when we broke down in Pacific City, Oregon.
9998
Luke making friends with a deer…

Bison Of British Columbia

9995

I’ve actually have nothing funny to say about today…which is good news since that means nothing bad happened. Good for us, bad for entertainment value.

It’s late, we drove about 13 hours today through windy, mountainous, freezing, roads and we’re tired. We drove, we ate, we watched me cower behind the truck while a buffalo circled around behind and then we drove some more. We dodged elk, caribou and bison wandering around in the road. We’re in Fort Nelson, British Columbia and are thankful the worse of the temperatures are behind us. It’s minus 13 and windy.

Here’s some evidence of our day….sorry my eyes are not letting me tell any tales.  Now I’m off to get some sleep so we can wake and do it all again.

9987

9988

9989

9990

9991

9992

9993

9994

9995

9996

 

South of the Border (Canadian That Is…)

9998

We bedded down last night in Tok, Alaska in a highway frontage hotel.  If I have learned anything on this trip so far it’s that there is no need for an alarm clock with five kids, three dogs, and two cats who are all used to the silence of the backwoods. Nobody sleeps through hotel noise. Sometime around four a.m. the dogs jolted us awake with a howl that would make a huntin’ dog jealous when a trucker out front started his rig. And so began our day.

10000

Tok is about 90 miles from the Alaska/Canada border and so we hit the crossing fairly early. The nice lady commented about the length of the truck and the husband said something about us being long enough to span two countries. I gave him a ‘look’ because for years he’s been told not to joke with the border folk. Some day he is going to get us deported. We handed over passports and birth certificates which she examined and had each child say their name through the truck window.  “You had two children in 1999?” she asked.  “We both had affairs,” replied the husband and I pinched him on the elbow.

Once that was cleared up she waved us through, declining our offer to leave her a “Border Cat”.

9995

The first time I came up the Alcan (Alaska/Canada) highway was in 1979.  The worst stretch of the whole trip back then was between the border and Kluane Lake. Thirty-four years later and it hasn’t changed a bit. It resembled a well groomed off-road track of broken pavement and wicked frost heaves. It seems no matter what they do, it just goes from bad to worse.  Near Beaver Creek, Yukon, a particularly evil frump sent the kids heads to the ceiling and the bike rack hanging off the receiver hitch buckled.  Cool. Two thousand dollars in mountain bikes barely hanging on and we were miles from anything.

9987

If you’ve ever seen one of those circus acts where sixteen clowns pile out of a car and run around like idiots with no real purpose at all, this is what we looked like on the side of a snow blown road in the Yukon today.  Only it was somewhere around negative twenty windchill and we were, for some reason, completely ill equipped for the weather. Boys in t-shirts grabbed dogs by leashes and took them for laps around the pull-off praying they would pee (one hasn’t peed yet).  The girls and us parents pulled the bikes from the teetering rack and one by one, tried to shove them into the tiny space once occupied by dogs. The food tub, duffel bags, bedding all went into the cab to make room for the bikes and then boys, girls, dogs, elephants and lions piled back into the cab. Meanwhile the cats huddled somewhere deep in the bed of the truck, now trapped behind a mountain of bikes half hanging out the canopy door.

9988

9989

9990

9991

9992

9993

We rode like this for a couple of hours.  Our food froze in the back so we shoved ham and cheese slices in the glove box, the warmest place in the car, to thaw. I made ham sandwiches and we sneakily ate them behind the dogs heads, switching hands as they twisted to see what was the smell. Beazie crawled from the third seat onto Mya, who already held Bagel, then across the laundry basket of food to Robin where she snuggled in like she’d found home.

Early in the evening, having lost about a half a day between the dogs, the bikes, and my leaving my Ipad under the pillow in the hotel which sent us backtracking, we hit the town of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory at the advice of a few fine Canadian folks.  We found a brand new bike rack at Canadian Tire (Coolest store ever, btw) and again battled the bikes, the cold and the dark. A fellow with a rich French accent visited us while we worked and we took turns warming ourselves in the cab of the truck between bolts, washers and curses.

Halfway thru assembling the new bike rack with numb hands the good people of Whitehorse reminded us it was Sunday night and every light in the vicinity went to black. Good thing I had a flashlight between chattering teeth and another stuffed inside my bra.  (cabin life finally pays off) As we fastened the last bike into place under the lights of the Walmart parking lot next door, a red fox casually moseyed by while the locals didn’t even seem to notice.  Just like home.

Tired, frustrated with our loss of time and chilled clear through we called it a night and checked into a pet friendly hotel. We’ll rise early tomorrow and attempt to make up some time.

I flipped off the hotel light switch a bit ago and Luke jumped up to go turn on the generator.  You can take the kid out of the backwoods…but you can’t take the backwoods out of the kid.

South From Alaska

9988

I was born a nomad.  In my forty-two years I have lived in 18 different homes in four different states and yet I feel like I’ve been stationary my whole life. My feet get the urge to wander and my family knows it’s time when I start thinning my belongings to a manageable heap.

So when we bought our 40 acres three years ago and began to create a life, a homestead, a permanent abode, my family was a little hesitant to believe I’d last. Well, there is still no place I’d rather be than right here in my cabin. No, really. 

But sometimes life changes your plans and the best thing to do is let go of the reigns and see what happens.

My mom-in-law turns 80 this year (I know women don’t like their age broadcast but I think 80 is something to shout about) and we’ve not lived near her for more than 20 years.  And so when the cabin didn’t quite reach the stage you might call, “remotely close to finished”, and we realized our feet may freeze to the floor if we stay still long, we devised a plan to spend the winter in the southern states so our kids can get to know the grandma they’ve been deprived of all these years.  

I’m gonna talk shop-lingo like a girl for a minute…be patient.  About a month ago the husband and the boys pulled the motor of the truck to replace the Timing Chain Cover because it was cracked and leaking oil. Leaking oil by the gallon equals not ready to drive 3500 miles.  In order to replace the timing chain cover, they had to pull out the entire motor so they could drop the oil pan and get some tube out of the oil pan. Thanks to Youtube, they found a way they could only ‘Lift’ the motor a ways to get the oil pan off, thus not having to remove the transmission, an act which makes the husband cuss like a sailor.  Okay, so several long days of greasy work and they put the whole thing back together.  We started the truck, nothing leaked, everyone is happy. 

SO, then we spent the next few weeks working on the interior. We pulled the seats; pulled old carpet and Rhinolined the floor, replaced the headliner; put new bucket seats up front; ran an external heater to the back seat; new speaker wires, etc. It looked beautiful and again, everyone was happy.

We we’re about five days shy of the husband going back to work with plans to leave for California the day of his return, when we started the truck. Uhoh, oil everywhere.  Hours later we tracked to leak to a missing seal. Again, most of the motor was disassembled, the leak repaired, the entire thing put back together. Woohoo, we said, we are going on vacation!

Again, we started the truck and took it for a test drive. A mile down the road we pulled over, looked under the truck, and a long stream of profanity flew from both our mouths. Oil, all over the road.

Upon investigation we discovered the oil pan was had sprung a leak. Or three.

Long story short, we dropped the six door off at Elite Diesel in Soldotna, Alaska and said, “Forget it…you fix it.”

The husband left for work and I called in an order for an oilpan via a local parts store who at this point, I am sure would like to remain nameless. But since the following was not their fault…it was the Soldotna Napa.  ‘The oil pan is a week out,’ they said, ‘coming from Kansas.’ And because we live in Alaska we are used to that. NO problem. The husband was gone to work for two weeks anyway.

And a week went by. Then ten days. I called Larry at Napa, who by this time recognized my voice. Larry did some dialing and found my oil pan has taken a little trip of it’s own. From Kansas to Idaho….to Alabama (twice) to Memphis Tennessee and had landed in Jacksonville, Florida. Cool. Trying not to freak out as our window of opportunity flies out the window, I called Keith at Ford in Kenai who assured me he can get one out of Sacramento the following day.’ Woohoo,’ we said, ‘we’re going on vacation!’

Now I’m sure the conversation between Keith from Ford and Blade from Elite the following day was more of an argument over who was going to call me, the nagging wench who harasses them on an hourly basis to finish her truck because the cabin is getting colder and smaller by the day. But Keith must have lost the toss because he called to tell me…my second oil pan had been sent to the wrong dealer. 

F#$$^%##%^…

I called Larry at Napa, “Did my oil pan happen to arrive from Florida?” I asked.  “Sweetie…” said Larry, “I don’t think you are supposed to leave Alaska.”   Bite me, Larry, I’m outta here one way or another.

I slept on it, letting Larry’s words sink in. Maybe the auto parts guy was right. Maybe all these issues were a sign. I’ve been following signs for years and it’s always worked out, but my drive to get south was stronger than my brains at that point.  So when Keith from Ford called me the next morning to say he’d managed to get me a third oil pan all the way from Sacramento in less than 20 hours, I wanted to kiss him through the phone. Kudos to Keith! It pays to have childhood friends in high places.

Four days in the shop and the engine was out, fixed up, and put back in place. Yesterday (Friday Nov 15, 2013) the truck came home. Since we’d spent a month or more preparing, the cabin was ready, the kids were packed, and all was in place for the trip. We spent the day playing a giant game of Tetris with the kids/dogs/cats/stuff in the truck and left half of it behind on the floor of the shop.  A good nights sleep and we were ready to roar at six this morning.

And then we saw the giant puddle of antifreeze pouring from the bottom of the motor as it warmed up in the dark driveway.. The husband high tailed it to our shop six miles away, the boys snapped into action as well-trained shop technicians, and half an hour later the leaky hose was back to work.

Meanwhile, the girls and I packed up our three dogs and two cats into their cubbies amongst the luggage. Nermal threw up all over my camera bag and Beezie is in heat…but other than that they appear to be handling the drive so far.

We hit Anchorage, then headed up the Glenn Highway towards Tok where we will spend the night. I’m typing this as the sun sets behind us and the moon reflects off snow coated spruce in the distance.  One long day nearly down, six more to go.

9987

 

Locked and Unloaded

MeTustumenaLake

I’m not an avid gun handler. I mean, I grew up lugging around a BB gun and could take out a Budweiser bottle as well as any filthy boy next door. I blew away ant hills and sabotaged unsuspecting spruce hen deep in the woods of Alaska late in the fall of my childhood. But if I ever have to take out a bear at a full charge, you’ll not be reading about it in the first person. I’ll be history.

I carry a gun on my hip, comfortably, in the woods and on more than one occasion have had to unholster. But to be honest…it’s more of a self-security feature than an absolute.  It may just weigh me down as I fled in pure panic whatever was in pursuit..

 So three nights ago when menacing dog growls sent shivers through my knees and the generator had died leaving us at the mercy of flashlights and courage, I tried to ignore the tiny hairs at attention on my neck.  I sat in the main room, dimly lit by my laptop screen. It’s unsettling, being silohetted by a bright bulb.  A target. To see my reflection in the window and know something could be standing on the other side of the glass, hidden by my own face. I was in the middle of freaking myself out when Anthony barreled out of the kids bunks insisting something had slowly scratched down his window, horror movie style, only the kid has never seen a horror movie.  Not to look like a weenie to the frightened boy, I rolled my eyes, climbed the ladder to my loft, and retrieved a pistol.  For the sake of the boy, of course.  I crept down the dark hallway, Anthony trailing behind, the beam of the light bouncing off plywood walls.  I clutched the forty-five in my best Charley’s Angels stance, pressed my back to the wall nearest the door, flipped the safety and opened the door just enough for three frightened dogs to slip out of the darkness into the safety of cabin walls.  Wimps.

And then, hands fluttering, I realized I’d not chambered a bullet. So much for protecting my family against the unknowns of the night.  If a creature of the dark had lunged through the door after my cowardly dogs, I’d have been nothing more than an appetizer, my children…the main course.

When I went up to bed that night, three dogs blending inconspicuously into couch cushions as if I wouldn’t notice, I tucked the forty-five under my pillow.  Why?  I don’t know. I’ve never done that before. Normally it’s holstered and stowed.  But my nerves were on end and somehow under my pillow felt right.

Until four-thirty, a.m. when in my sleep, my right hand fumbled around the bed in search of a flashlight. We don’t have power in the bedroom yet, so everything is done by the yellow glow of a Mag Light. Still completely asleep, incoherent and groggy, I found the flashlight.  But it wasn’t right. It felt odd.

You know that not-quite-awake-feeling when you are aware of what you are doing, but don’t seem to have any control over it?  Yah…that was me, fondling a loaded weapon under my pillow in the wee hours.  By the time I realized I was clutching a gun, I had rolled over, pulled it from under my pillow, and had a finger on the trigger…but the gun was aimed square at my pajamas.

The safety was on.  The bullets were not engaged. But…they could have been. I could have forgotten to lock the safety. I could have remembered to ‘Chachink’ the bullets into place and left it that way, stashed ‘safely’ under my pillow.

My pajamas could have been annihilated.

And people would have said, “well…it’s no shock…have you met her children?” Or, “she did seem pretty stressed out lately….” And nobody would have ever known what happened. I’d have been an unsolved mystery, profiled on Cold Case Files twenty years from now.  

Time for a refresher course in gun safety and a renewed realization that people who know all the rules… who are comfortable and confident and think they’ve got it all under control…can get too relaxed. And that is when accidents happen.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 8-11-13

Apparently we only have Sundays about once a month this summer…either that or I’ve just been TOO BUSY TO SIT AT THE COMPUTER! Probably, it’s the latter. But here’s a glimpse of the past few weeks.

9989
Our trucks long lost rich relative tracked us down in Anchorage…
9990
Bizarre lighting in the snow up above Portage area…
9991
http://www.alaskawildlife.org/ Moose at Alaska Conservation Center
9992
http://www.alaskawildlife.org/ This girl/guy was like a statue.
9993
Bird On A Wire
9994
Take off!
9995
I love the velvet on the antlers…..and these look like creepy scary hands!
9996
I wonder if he gets headaches…
9997
Fishing boats waiting to come in with the tide off Ninilchik, Alaska
10003
Luke…well…he likes goggles. Alot. We just go with it…
10006
Ninilchik Beach
10007
Ninilchik, Alaska beach
10008
Robin being ‘blown away’….or is she?
10009
Bear at wildlife center. http://www.alaskawildlife.org/
10010
Bear at wildlife center. http://www.alaskawildlife.org/
10012
http://www.alaskawildlife.org/
9988
The husband can ride a wheelie FOREVER. He’s the coolest 42 year old in Jr. High…
9987
Blurry moose…but still cute.

Alaska Photos

Photo tour of Homer, Seldovia and Tustumena Lake

They say you never really know your area until you have company…or at least that’s what it seems.  This past two weeks my oldest daughter, Heather, and her boyfriend, Andrew, have been visiting from Oregon. SO we are playing touristy and seeing the sites.  These pictures come from our ferry trip across from Homer to Seldovia, Alaska and also from a day on Tustumena Lake.

Tustumena lake is a 27 mile long glacier fed lake with VERY questionable weather changes with no notice. It can be smooth as glass one minute, then four foot swells the next, literally. We had smooth water all afternoon, made it all 27 miles up the lake in my dads boat, and back down the other edge for a full tour of the lake. Andrew kept saying, “I feel so lucky…” and indeed, he was.  We all were.

 

9999
My oldest daughter, Heather, and her guy, Andrew, on the boat.
9987
Fish from above, bridge in Seldovia, Alaska
9988
Old bottles in the bookstore near bridge in Seldovia, Alaska
9990
Russian Orthodox church in Seldovia, Alaska
9992
From the beach in Seldovia, Alaska
9994
Jellyfish off the docks of Seldovia, Alaska
9997
Old trapper cabin on Tustumena Lake, about 3/4 of the way to the glacier end… in Kasilof, Alaska
9998
Tustumena Lake, Kasilof Alaska

 

10002
My dad on Tustumena Lake, Kasilof, Alaska
10004
Jellyfish off dock in Seldovia, Alaska
10005
Jellyfish off docks in Seldovia, Alaska
10009
Sea otter in Seldovia, Alaska
10010
Sea Otter in Seldovia, Alaska
10011
Jelly fish in Seldovia, Alaska
10014
Old trapper cabin on Tustumena Lake, near far end by glacier, in Kasilof Alaska

Things I Don’t Tell You

Me in sunglasses
Me today…and how I look 98% of the time.

The other day on my Facebook page, I commented something about having a bad day.  A reader replied, saying she was relieved I was having a bad day because it seemed like I always knew what to do…or something like that. I laughed out loud…shook my head…and started to type.

It’s so easy to appear, in the world of the internet, as if we’ve got it all together. But the reality is, there’s much, much, much more to my life of dysfunction that I don’t share. Not because I want to come across as some super-parent who knows all the answers…but because my kids deserve SOME privacy. And honestly, so do I.

And so I don’t tell you every time I screw things up. I don’t sign on here and say, “Hey, I just lost it on my kid and I feel like shit now.”  But trust me…every…single…day…I screw up.  Just like you. I’m here to entertain…not to depress, and so I keep much of my life to myself and only share what I think will either A. be helpful or B. entertain.

Here is a list of some of the things I don’t tell you:

I cuss.  Not a little. A lot. Like when I stub my toe for the sixteenth time, or bite my tongue. Watch out. Sometimes, ‘Oh Fudge’ just doesn’t cut it.

I’m a yeller. Ask my kids.

I don’t like to cook. I have no idea how my family is still alive.

Anthony is one of 9. One died from abuse and one died of bone cancer. Three of those remaining have severe mental health issues resulting in long term residential hospitalization…as children. His odds of ‘normalcy’ are not good.

I don’t tell you when my kids do really, really, really stupid things. Which happens OFTEN. They deserve SOME privacy.

One of my kids will live with me well into adulthood, if not forever. I’m terrified of that commitment.

We almost didn’t adopt Robin because her voice was so high pitched; it was painful to listen to her. Only dogs knew what she was saying. Adenoid removal saved her.  Plus, she’s cute.

I have a double chin I hide in all photographs.

The things I can’t tell you…are really the most entertaining.

People who don’t know me think I’m patient and kind with my children. People who know me are laughing right now as they read this.

I wish I could get a do-over with my first couple of foster kids…I had no idea what I was doing and probably did more damage than good.

I hardly ever cry over anything.  My kids say I’m dead inside. This morning I lost it, like heaving, sobbing, lost it.

I left high school half way through my junior year because I was pregnant.  That sucked.

I’m afraid of the water. But I love to boat. Go figure.

My whole family is sarcastic and sometimes people think we are rude…but really we are just hilarious. To us.

One of my kids, on their first day in my home said, “I don’t let nobody under my blankets anymore…” I will never forget that sentence.

Mya’s mom was my foster daughter. She was fourteen when she had Mya and left us at eighteen.  I don’t talk about that either.  Someday, with her permission, I will. It will be a best-seller.

When people tell me they understand my life, because they have kids too…I secretly want to smack them down.  They have no clue.People raising adopted fosters are nodding their heads…those who are not may be offended by that statement. That’s okay. I don’t know what it’s like to be you, either.

Billy is my favorite even though he makes me crazy. I think it’s because he needed me the most. Don’t tell the other seven.

Sometimes I wish I had never adopted any children.   

Sometimes I want ten more.

I sleep with multiple stuffed moose and my husband has individual voices for each one…they wake me up in the morning.

I would love to live completely remote. I don’t really like people.

I had an abortion when I was young. I live with that. Maybe that’s why I take in kids…to right the wrong. I don’t know…

If I could never step into a mall, department or grocery store again in my life, I would be immensely happy.

I know every detail of every episode of ‘Friends’.

Destini and I have non-stop witty banter. We never stop. We crack ourselves up. The rest of the kids just stare at us.

I parent my kids with a sort of military commander style. I have to…if I don’t they’ll take over.

The year I was eighteen, I went a little crazy. Divorced, two year old daughter…I went into party mode and my mom raised my kid for a while. I’m not ready to talk about that yet.

Statistically, three out of four foster children have been sexually abused.  I don’t talk about that here.

I cautiously believe in the phenomena of psychic ability. I’ve had some experiences that leave me wondering.

I smoked enough pot when I was eighteen to medicate the state of Colorado.

I graduated magna cum laude from a top private college at 34 years old and wish I could go back and do it all again. I’m proud of that.

I rarely put my laundry away. It travels directly to my bed, to the floor, to my bed, to the floor….

I wear contacts and am pretty much legally blind without them. My vision is like 20/525.  I want surgery.

Luke speaks so quietly that nobody can hear him. Like that girl on Pitch Perfect.

Two of my kids have the same RAD diagnosis. If you’ve parented RAD you are cringing right now.

My older brother is awesome at everything he has ever done and I hate that he’s so nice I can’t even hate him.

Destini’s name came from the Eagles song, The Last Resort.  “In the name of Destiny, and in the name of God…”

I have played, and completed, every Zelda game since the first Nintendo came out.

I provide birth control for my kids because I was a mother at sixteen and I don’t wish that on them.

Adopted kids and biological kids do not evoke the exact same emotion. It’s not the same. You don’t love them less…you’d still throw yourself in front of a bus for them. It’s just different.  That sounds bad. But true.

I am obsessed with old books. Any old book. It doesn’t have to be valuable…just old. (Keri Riley, PO Box 39288 Ninilchik, Alaska 99639 for those feeling the urge to send me old books. Or money…)

I was married from sixteen to eighteen to Heather’s dad.  I have some really good memories mixed in with that horror of a marriage.

When I was seventeen years old, I attended ten weeks of Nail Technology School and learned to do acrylic nails. I barely passed.  I don’t know who that girl was…

Heather, Destini and I sound exactly the same when we speak.

I can’t write on command. This is why I rarely blog.  When it comes to me it pours out of my fingers and I don’t care if I’m using proper grammar. I write, how I think. And I rarely edit. That’s what makes my words real.  Like this.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 6-23-13

Since I’ve neglected Scenic Sunday for a while…this is a super-sized version with several weeks all wrapped up in one! Lucky you!

8907
Anthony built himself a folding ladder…

8908
The girls finally finished the fire pit…
8909
And we used the heck out of the fire pit…
8910
Pluto hit her “terrible two-weeks”…
8911
Billy brought his new pup over to play…
8912
We milked the goats every day…
8913
Neptune and Pluto somehow got ever more cute…
8914
We transplanted a bunch of raspberries and strawberries…
8915
Beezie got too big to cuddle…
8916
Life in the cabin…
8917
Luke had an ‘incident’ on his bike…
8918
And we took a trip to the hospital…
8919
Luke takes his mosquitoes very, very seriously…check the ski mask and goggles…
8920
My dad began to install my power system…
8921
We hit 80 degrees…and I melted.
8922
The cabin is beginning to look liveable.
8923
And then the sun went away and the wind returned…
8924
My chick found a new panda mother…
8925
Robin has a rainproof jacket…filled with creek water. And Anthony doesn’t want to get wet…
8926
Steven and Luke ALWAYS want to get wet.
8927
We acquired four orphaned kittens with their eyes barely opened.
8928
We went to basketball camp in Homer and I got to walk the docks…
8929
Not exactly what I meant by, “Go int he litter box”…
8930
Abby got hold of my favorite chicken, Gonzo…
8931
So cute..
8932
Walked the beach…
8933
Seagulls can be pretty too…

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 5-26-13

This week Destini spent some time in Portland with my oldest daughter, Heather…the snow finally melted at the cabin and we started our summer of work (disguised heavily as play)…and I continue to fall madly in love with our new baby goat Pluto.  I never thought I’d be one of those goat people…I’ve crossed a line somewhere along the way.

8916
I. Love. This Goat.

IMG_6034
Look, kids who look like ME! Destini and Heather
8907
Robin wielding an ax as usual…
8908
The kids starting to dig out the new fire pit area we are building…

8909
Carrying all my ‘kids’ in the back of the Tracker…

8910
Grilling over the fire…

8911
Anthony’s latest building complex…

8912
Temporary goat housing until we can start on the barn…

8914
Mya and Robin digging out the fire pit…
8917
You see why I’m in love?

8920
Robin flipping out…

8921
Pluto being precious…

8922
No, you are not seeing things…Pluto was literally bouncing up the wall…

8923
Destini…glad to be back home…
8924
Luke defies gravity…

\

8925
Robin also defies gravity…

8926
We don’t have ‘beach volleyball’…we have dirt volleyball…

8927
Three on three…

8929
New babies…

 

 

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 4-21-13

3463
Eagle hovering over dead fish in Ninilchik, Alaska
3464
Take off
3465
The eagle has landed
3453
This moose has just about demolished my rose bushes
3454
Steven found the invertebrate plate of a whale on the beach tonight. It’s the size of a dinner plate.
3455
Beach Boys…
3456
Seagulls in Ninilchik, Alaska
3457
Steven on the beach in Ninilchik, Alaska
3458
Homer, Alaska sunset
3459
Homer, Alaska sunset
3460
Homer, Alaska
3461
Looks edible…no?
3462
Anthony proving that yes, white men can jump…

 

A Moostacle Course!

We spent most of the day trapped in the house by two friendly bull moose who just don’t realize that next Fall, they may be dinner.  The mistake is, when they are babies they are so darn cute that we just ignore them…don’t try to scare them off. Well eventually they grow up and become, well, a bit intimidating at the front door.

7869

7870

7871

7872

7873

7874

7875

7876

7877

7878

7879

7880

7881

7882

7883

7884

 

Aurora Borealis March 2013

Robin and I trudged through the cemetery in Ninilchik, Alaska in the week hours of the night on St. Patrick’s Day 2013 to achieve these pictures.  The auroras were floating directly above, to the north, south, east and west. They were everywhere. Robin lay in the snow on her back, reaching her hand up to see if she could touch them…they felt that close.7880

7875

7876

7877

7878

7879

7874

7873

7872

7871

7870

7869

7884

 

7883

7882

7881

7880

7879

More Winter Beach With Kids 2013

Battled the wind in Homer, Alaska to snap this immature eagle devouring a sea otter carcass today.
Battled the wind in Homer, Alaska to snap this immature eagle devouring a sea otter carcass today.
6547_10200908168971549_1120972238_n
Destini’s cell phone pics…. I totally look like her baby in a backpack.

 

484873_10200908169771569_819214553_n
What I look like pretty much ALL THE TIME.

 

734557_10200908168771544_1922400377_n
Me and Destini being cute.

 

7869
Sun setting around 8 p.m. this time of year and getting later every day.

Ninilchik, Alaska Beach Of Winter

Six of the kids on the beach...
Six of the kids on the beach…

 

The kids and I made an evening trip to the Ninilchik Beach today under the false pretense that Spring was just around the corner and the sun that shone so brightly might ACTUALLY BE WARM!!!   We walked briskly, snapped quickly, and jogged back to the truck with frozen hands and toes. We’ll give it another month and try again…or maybe tomorrow. 😉

Destini
Destini getting her Zen on…

 

Ninilchik
Ninilchik Beach at Sunset March 13 ,2013

 

Mya
Mya on beach…

 

Sunset
Sunset

 

Luke
Luke on beach

 

Destini
Destini with her normal face…

 

Robin
Robin with glasses of ice…

 

Ice Sunset
Ice Sunset on Ninilchik Beach, March 13, 2013

 

Girls
Destini and Mya on beach…

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 1-20-13

Ninilchik, Alaska beach in winter…brrrrrr
Beezy playing in the snow…

 

Ice on the beach….

 

A rare sighting of a bull, mama and baby moose…

 

Bull in the back yard…

 

The boys loving art lessons…

 

Boys trying on their new beard hats gifted them by a wonderful blog reader…

 

Anthony’s first oil painting lesson with grandma…

Child of a Child

I was just two weeks into motherhood when I took a job at the Dairy Queen on 28th drive and Cactus in Phoenix, Arizona and made the first of many bad parenting choices.  A few days past my seventeenth birthday, I was still fresh from prom nights, backseats and football games, not quite ready for the impromptu marriage and screaming baby I’d locked myself in to.  But locked in, I was.

Just two months before I’d been home in Alaska, safely ensconced in my parent’s basement, watching as my teen body engorge into a woman.  Brian left state long before I was showing and headed off to college while I stayed home and wailed to my parents about undying love.  Finally, eight months, in they acquiesced to my request to marry. I wondered, even then for brief seconds, of the future.  But reason is rarely in the forefront when love and immaturity are involved.

I flew to Phoenix and stepped from the plane into the stifling night air where Brian didn’t run from my swollen belly and hopeful eyes.  He took me home to a house he’d rented with four other college boys in a neighborhood better known for traffic in the obscurity of night than for lawn ornaments and pool parties.  We rented a back bedroom with no air conditioning or fans.  The unfamiliar heat clutched my pregnant body, suffocating my already tilting will.  The incessant late night traffic stops in front of the house; the coffee table engulfed in melted candle wax and zigzags; and the early sixty’s corvette tarped in the back yard should have been an indicator that more was going on in the house than studying but I kept to my bedroom, splayed out on the bed sparsely dressed, and tried to remember why I’d ever wanted to leave my parents basement.  It was a lonely time.

Brian worked nights for the United Parcel Service, throwing boxes late into the night in a sweaty warehouse, and then studying afterward for his classes the next day.  A Business Management major fast tracking through a B.A. in under three years, Brian had his goals set, his life before him and dreams coming true.  Until he’d knocked up his teenage girlfriend.

Eventually we found our own apartment and my parents sent us the money to move. My father had not talked to me since I’d left home, unable to utter a word to the daughter who lived in sin.  Or perhaps he just couldn’t swallow the fear in his throat long enough to speak.  Either way, we’d promised to marry and so we did and then my father sent some money. It was a fair trade.

We found home in a brown stucco complex, a one bedroom apartment on the bottom floor with swirled orange countertops and supersized cockroaches.  We owned a striped corduroy couch given to us by an elderly lady and carried three buildings over, a cinder block book shelf, a small dresser and a wind-up baby swing I’d traded a twenty dollar bill for in a time when minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. And then we had a baby and Heather slept in a dilapidated dresser drawer on the dingy floor.

I took a job at the Dairy Queen two weeks after giving birth, where breast milk dampened my uniform shirt front and tired feet barely held me to the tiled floor.  By night I kept alive a living creature, so delicate and dependent.

I was to be at work by noon, yet Brian had class and would not arrive home until quarter past.  I needed that job badly.  I was young. I was painfully shy. I was selfish. I was a child.  And so each day at five till noon I’d swath my immobile infant tightly in a blanket, prop her into the swing and strap her snuggly around the middle.  I turned the knob quietly, soothing her as I did, helping her to find her tiny thumb and push it far into her mouth, suckling until she slept.  The swing pushed her gently back and forth, no different really than a mothers pulsing sway, I told myself. And then I walked out the door.

I’d run across the complex in the heat, my heavy, milk-filled breasts aching as my heart. Fifteen minutes, I reconciled.  Only fifteen minutes would she be alone and she was fine, wrapped so snug.  Brian would be home and he would call me when he arrived in just fifteen minutes.  Fifteen very long minutes. And Brian would push the pedal on that old Gallaxy, always arriving home just in time. And so it went for weeks.  Until one day my schedule changed and we no longer had to do it.

I was young, I could tell you.  I was naïve.  Sometimes all you  have to give just isn’t enough.  I was just a child myself…and I’d like to say I didn’t know.  But I knew what I was doing.  I knew.  And after the first couple of times, it wasn’t even really that hard…

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Related Stories:

Sixteen And Pregnant I

Sixteen And Pregnant II

Fragments Of Sanity

 

 

 

Stalactites Of Winter

When winter blends in to the fall that precedes

And darkness consumes us and sunlight recedes

Tall spears of ice, from the roofs edge they dangle

Nearly to ground—a precarious angle.

 ~

Through winters of wonder, they magically hold

Till summer comes closer and Christmas grows old

Near April the ice swords, wet, shiny round

Fall from their roots to crash on the ground.

~

Sporadic, unpredictable, falling like rain

They cave to the pressure, give in to the strain

Heavy-thawed-snow falls down the tin roof

Then hangs from the ledge—gravity proof.

~

The sheer wall of skewers—ic e sculpture art

Stalactites of winter, always are part

Of a change in the season, with spring round the bend

When snow will all vanish and winter will end.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 9/30/12

This weeks Scenic Sunday is created entirely by Robin Riley, age 15.  This summer Robin set her sights on a camera and did what it took to get it.  She babysat, cleaned house, and begged to save the $600.

And you can see here why she was so eager to get her hands on it.  The girl has skills!

 

 

Settling In To Cabin Life

My lantern oil just dimmed to nothing and left me in complete darkness but for the glow of my laptop and the internet box blinking green to my right. I see the hazy glow of Luke’s flashlight bouncing as he walks back in from the outhouse and another in the hall where Anthony pulls a book from the shelf, though it’s 12:14 a.m.  He’ll read far into the early morning, unable to regulate his desire to read just one…more…page.

Beyond the gentle hum of the cooling fan inside my computer, I hear the jumbled cur plunk of rain hitting the tin roof for the sixth night straight. The occasional turning of some child’s page and the crackle of a warm fire give life to the blackness around me and I ponder this night, this day, this life I’ve decided to live, somewhere between the Last Frontier and Star Trek Enterprise, where life is simple, yet technologically advanced.  The perfect world.

Outside the cabin a dog barks suddenly at nothing, at everything, and all these many weeks into life out here, I no longer wonder what is.  It’s different now, with walls firmly in place, compared to the times when the children dwelled in tents while the dogs coward and growled into the dark unknown.  It’s safe, now, though the front door only hangs, and doesn’t close, an extension cord strung through where the knob should be.  No matter, nothing can get in, we have no steps.

It’s September 22, just three weeks away from the average first snow.  We’ve still no well, but soon says the driller, soon.  Today I plumbed the sink drain. Such a simple pleasure, to be able to brush my teeth without first having to slip on a pair of boots and a coat even if I still get my water from a jug to the side.  Tomorrow I’ll set a toilet in place and we’ll all dance circles around the bowl, fighting over who gets to christen the throne.  I’ll win.

I’ll head towards my loft now.  I’ll fill the woodstove to heaping with logs the boys split and put the potato soup into the ice box using the flashlight app on my phone, just like Laura Ingals would have done it, no doubt, had she the chance. I’ll climb the not-quite-tall-enough ladder and defy death once again getting into my loft bedroom, flip on the flashlight that hangs from a nail on the ceiling, and crawl between my 400 thread count sheets.

It’s a strange world I live in, somewhere between what was…and what is. Finding a balance point…now that could be my demise.

 

 

This Is My Land

It was more than forty years ago that my in-laws, just after giving birth to their seventh child (my husband) purchased an acre of land. An escape, they said, from the L.A. life they found themselves living. Bud worked the assembly line at General Motors in Van Nuys, and Patricia worked in a medical office.  An escape from the city was just what they needed. And so, sight unseen from a brochure, they bought an acre of paradise just outside of Redding, California.

I can’t adequately describe the years of family time on that little acre in the woods.  For those parents, their seven children, the grandchildren and even great grandchildren to follow, it was where life found joy, kids found innocence and adults found their youth again.  For the Riley family, it was where life began…and even ended.

When Bud passed away his ashes were placed in a memorial rock on the site.  Those who knew him had no doubt that is exactly as he would want it to be, and so it was.  Photos were placed on the spot, memories recited, and grandchildren who didn’t know the man learned of his life through stories and tales swapped over the campfire.  For the family, it was a place where siblings, not always close, could get together for a weekend and emerge reunited, as if time had never passed and life had never eaten at the bond.

And last week, in a wildfire sparked in the hot summer California sun, it burned.

Communities were evacuated, homes were lost, families devastated by the loss of all they owned. The land around the property scorched unrecognizable.  An old camper left nothing but remnants, a grandchild’s red wagon a blackened shard of metal.  The fire pit where family remembers 40 years of marshmallows and laughter is left unusable.

And not twenty feet away, a circle of life remains.  A memorial to a man who worked nights on the assembly line for thirty years and raised seven excellent kids.  A man who’s smile will carry on in his sons and whose love for chocolate milk in his daughters, who wasn’t perfect but was perfectly okay with that and a man who’s love for his family shown through his gruff toughness and devotion.  That circle surrounding where his ashes lay to rest, remained untouched.

As if the fire knew he was not to be trifled with.

And so the family will clean, will rebuild, will still gather.  They will grow from that small circle of green grass and standing trees, drawing on the memory of the man who once stood strong on that spot, forty years ago with his children at his side and said, “This is my land.”

Our Fearless Leader

This is not going to be well written, of that I am sure. It’s late at night, I’m tired, and I have computer access for just a short time. I apologize ahead of time…

The past few weeks have been very stressful.  We left behind our 7 bedroom home, moved completely out, cleaned it spotless and put it up for sale.

We moved onto our land far before we should have and set up camp, literally, with six of the kids.  Robin sleeps in a tent.  Billy sleeps in a tent which he proudly calls his two-room-mansion.  Mya and the three small boys sleep in an old run down travel trailer we picked up for pennies and cleaned the mold from.  I am sleeping in the loft of our incomplete 20×36 cabin, which is actually quite comfortable if you discount the fact that we STILL have gable ends with no sheeting because I am afraid of heights and the wind and mosquitos think that’s an invitation. And until two days ago, we had no front door.

When Dan is home from work next week we will put the tin on the roof, wire the generator to the cabin and have flushing toilets, if no water with which to flush them.

Truth be told, our money is tight, we need $9000 for a well, a new generator and some groceries in storage before winter and it’s not looking promising. Not that we won’t have the well…it just might be drilled through frost or snow sometime in October. We’ll live.

Oh, I’m not complaining, mind you.  Because as my older kids remind me daily, “You wanted this…”, therefore my gripe-rights are null and void. I simply have to bite my tongue, smile and nod, smile and nod, when people ask how things are coming along.

They are coming along… just a bit more slowly than we’d imagined, but coming along none the less.

Yesterday I found myself more frustrated than usual and when Dan called from whatever arctic oasis he has found himself in for his shift, I was less than pleasant.  I normally try not to complain when he calls. After all, he works 12 plus hour days for weeks at a time and rarely lets off steam.  But last night I needed to vent. And so I let him have it.

He listened, heard me out, and empathized with my plight.  Are we making a huge mistake, I wondered?  Did we plunge in based on fantasy and now reality closes in with the coming of winter?  Should we just move back into the big house?  What about going south?  Perhaps some sun is the answer, maybe camp out through the winter in a nice condo on a beach…now that sounds nice, doesn’t it?  I laid out my list of complaints like a rug at his weary feet, hoping he’d climb aboard my rampage.  He listened, we said our goodnights and I began to plot my escape.

And then my dear husband, who for over twenty years has calmed my storms, who should have been fast asleep by then, resting for the next day of work, sent me the following text:

“Homestead Survival page just asked, ‘What would you do with 30 acres?’  Looking at the replies, most readers see that as Heavenly and completely out of reach.  They can’t even dream of such a thing.  We have 40. It’s ours. We need to remember how blessed we are, and that we know hard work pays off in the end.  We are both mentally and physically fatigued…but we are living our dream.”

And he’s right, of course.  He always is.  I rarely talk about him on this site, because he really prefers me not to. I don’t blame him…I know a lot of secrets. But once in a while, I just need to say thanks.  He is the backbone of this family, the unsung hero, and my dream-sharer for life.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 8-12-2012

Found a couple of caribou on the side of the road...
Attended Salmon Stock at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds...
Worked on the floor and wall boards for the cabin...we have almost sawmilled enough boards to finish floor...
Moved the chicken/goat house from the old house...
Pushed the chicken/goat house into it's new location...
Transported chickens via boxes/tubs at 1:15 a.m...
(the chickens were not impressed with the move...)
Discovered Bagel sleeping in the firepit...
Found Anthony with improvised sunglasses...
Pulled some quills from the dogs faces and feet...
Met some very cool blog reader ladies who built this Tiny House!

 

Boys In The Backwoods…

I don’t remember being covered in bruises, blood and broken skin on a daily basis as a child…perhaps that is the key difference between little girls and little boys.  Then again, the way I used to roll my 3-wheeler down every dirt hill within miles, it’s rather surprising I made it through my eleventh year at all.

My three youngest boys go, go, go nonstop all day long and well into the night.  How we avoid the ER, I have no idea.  ( I probably shouldn’t tempt fate by saying that…)

Here’s a video I took last night on my cell of their home made ‘skate park’. Take note of the two pieces of upturned firewood holding the ramp in place.  Classy. Anthony, the master engineer, designed and constructed the masterpiece. Then again, he also designed and built the bike jump that left Steven’s face looking as it does above….so….

 

Battle Scars

Robin the week she came to us…what’s not to love, right?!

Tonight while making dinner, the boys were swapping scar stories, as boys do. Steven showed off a rugged mark of a playground fall and Luke talked about a scrape from an old porch board.  Anthony nodded his head forward to show them
one in his hairline and said, “My birth dad told me one story about how it happened, but he lies all the time, so I’m not sure.”

Robin laughed and said, “That’s nothing…my arm was nearly ripped off by a broken window while saving a baby from some lions.”

Right.

It was a few years back when she first noticed the jagged scar wrapping nearly all the way around her left wrist.  Lines and creases mar an otherwise flawless skin, a remnant of a past she can’t remember and most of the time, she’s glad to forget.

We dug out the piles of old Child Welfare paperwork, documenting her ugly history before she landed on my door at six years old. We scoured the medical records, assuming such a vial scar would surely have required medical attention, but with no result.
There was nothing, no mention in a caseworker notes or recorded doctor visit indicating such an accident or even purposeful attack that would have left such a mark.  Nothing.

And so, I said, “Probably you were saving a baby from a burning building…” because what else could I say?

“Or lions,” she said, her young imagination began to work and her eyes widened in excitement.

And so it was set in the historical records of our family, that Robin was a hero in her younger years, capable of great deeds of sacrifice and the strength to fend off lions.

I wrote briefly HERE about a conversation I had with Robin a while back.  I was driving down the road and talking to Mya about how when she was little, she was afraid of the moon shining through her bedroom window.  We laughed about how silly it was and what a funny little kid she was, and since I’ve had her since she was a baby, there is much information to share.  Robin, sitting quietly beside me, said,

“I wish I knew if I was afraid of the moon.”

It’s true. We know nothing about Robin’s early childhood.  And likewise, we know little of any of our children’s lives before they became a part of ours. Only what they remember, and with histories like theirs, they mostly just block it all out.

We don’t know if they were skinny as a rail or plump as a penguin. We don’t know if they always had a dirty face, if they were a walking disaster…like I assume Billy was…or neat as a pin. We don’t know if they talked early or walked late. We don’t know anything about them at all, except that they needed someone and that someone wasn’t there.

And so sometimes, as when Robin fended off the lions…because that IS what happened, we mak e stuff up.  We get creative. We
invent a history with color, with flair, so when those dark visions cast an angry cloud over what should have been a sunny childhood, they have something to hold on to.  Because God knows, they need something to hold on to.

Revival–by Anthony

It’s about 11:30 at night and Anthony just knocked on my bedroom door to show me a poem he’d written.  This work will make more sense if you’ve read other things about or by Anthony.  See a list of links at the bottom of this page.  Here’s what he handed me…

My memories are broken…

My childhood was being ripped away from me

My father…he acted in anger and in violence

I was a child of broken dreams

I was a child of vulnerability

Knowing nothing of my parents crimes

Then I was saved.  I was revived.  I was fixed.

I have been reborn

I live a new life

I love my new life

I can’t live without my new family

I love my new house

I should, and I will, call it my home.

Other Stories About Anthony

 http://backwoodsmom.com/2012/05/another-mother/

http://backwoodsmom.com/2011/09/youve-come-a-long-way-baby/

http://backwoodsmom.com/2011/05/a-simple-truth/

http://backwoodsmom.com/2011/05/mommy/

http://backwoodsmom.com/2011/04/adoption-pending/

 

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 5-14-2012

Had a wonderful Mother's Day evening with new friends...

THIS WEEK I MY LIFE I…

Got some pretty good shots of this young eagle carrying food...
And then discovered what he was carrying...was somebody's cat...
Took the small boys up the the property for some cookin'...
Had some senseless fun...
Found out the bees are building honey comb...
Let the boys look inside the bee hive...
Dug and outhouse hole...
Found a big (by South Central Alaska standards) tree on our property...
Met this little beauty...
Sent Billy and a friend off to do some camping...
And finally, late into the night....got some peace and quiet.

Another Mother

I’m sitting here at 11 p.m. the night before Mother’s Day.  Anthony, age 11, is here with me. He’s sleeping on the couch tonight so we’re talking. I asked him what he thinks about on Mother’s Day in regards to his birth family. As he spoke, I typed word for word (my kids are used to me multi-tasking)  This is what he had to say:

I think of my birth mom on Mother’s Day.  My birth mom had a really hard life. She not only had her kids taken away but she had one die.  And I know it’s her bad judgment but it’s still hard.

My birth mom, she probably misses us a lot. One thing I think she really did wrong is that she stayed with my birth dad. She had a chance to get us back by leaving him, but she didn’t go.  I don’t know why. I’ve actually wondered that a lot since I was taken. I’ve wondered how she feels about that decision. I mean, she picked one person instead of six kids.  I kind of have a hole in me, thinking my mom doesn’t even love me enough to keep me.

I know it’s her issue…but it’s my sadness.

My mom wears glasses, I think. She keeps her hair back and it’s not as soft as most peoples. I don’t remember what she looks like.  She likes horror movies, I know that. And she didn’t usually do much around us. She helped my dad cook and she watched movies. I didn’t really know her that much.  Other than sticking me to a t.v. and feeding me, she didn’t do much and I didn’t really know her any other ways.

I didn’t know my relatives. I never went on a vacation. I’d never been off of the Peninsula before. I didn’t pay attention much to where I was.  I didn’t care.  We moved a lot. I liked being around my sisters. Whenever I was actually really happy and having fun, I was with my sisters.

My dad wasn’t there when we were taken. They expected him to be there.  There were armed men outside. Not like military, but maybe policemen.  The one policeman that was closest to the door had his hand on his gun. That’s when I ran to my mom. The doorbell rung and my mom started screaming, “Don’t take them, don’t take them.”  That’s all I remember about that.  My older sister wasn’t there cause my dad was taking her to the hospital because of when he hurt her face. The thing that gets me is that I never wondered why she was gone. She was usually home.

I was in a guy’s car. I think he worked for the police but he didn’t have a police car. He had one of those magnet things like a police siren. One of those red flashing ones.  I messed with his handcuffs.

We had a one room house with a bathroom. That’s all. We slept on mattresses on sleeping bags all in the same room. I never had my own bed before until I came here. We used to have a bigger house but I don’t know why we left that one. I don’t even know where it was. We didn’t stay there very long. I was small then, maybe four. After that we moved into a house where the floor was rotting so you’d have to be careful where you stepped or you would fall through. Even when you couldn’t see the rot, my sister would fall right through the floor.  We had lots of land there, maybe half an acre.  After that we moved to Homer and we lived in that little one room house. It was fun there because I had an uncle there, and nothing was wrong with him except he got drunk a lot. I had an aunt there too. I don’t think there was anything wrong with her like everyone else.  She was good.

I wonder how my sisters feel on my birthday. Maybe they don’t know my birthday. I don’t know theirs.  I used to know every body’s birthday except my dads. We didn’t really celebrate. We were just happier on that day and treated that person really good. My dad gave extra licorice.

My dad was sometimes a nice guy. Sometimes you didn’t want to be around him at all. I’m going to talk about when he was being nice. He always promised to me that if I ate half my vegetables, I could have a piece of licorice.  But usually we ate on a cardboard box, so I just put the vegetables inside the cardboard box. He never found out.  He kept alternating jobs. The longest I think he ever held one of his jobs was maybe three months. He had a good job. He worked in a cubicle in business with some other guys, so I considered that good. He never came home with rash reports, he never came home angry from that job. It must have been good. I guess he was fired.

I never really got hit much by my dad at all. I don’t know why, but he usually took it all out on my sisters.  He once hit her for chopping onions wrong. That really annoyed me. He took my breath once when he hit me and my sister blew air into my mouth. I told you about that before.

Mom? Want to hear the poem I wrote for you for Mother’s Day? (gets out his Nook where he keeps notes he writes…)

Mothers day is a day to do all the work

While she lays back with a smirk

You give her cookies and make her cake

That way she doesn’t have to bake

She watches us work a part

While she eats her cinnamon pop tart

This day is for you mom,

 I love you with all my heart.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 05-06-2012

Startled a flock of geese...more than once.

This week in my life I…

Wondered if Luke knows he is small...
Watched Anthony fall in love with Norman Lowell's art...
Watched Anthony pan for gold at the beach...
Stalked some ducks on the Ninilchik River...
Cooked marshmallows with the kids...
Drove to Anchorage...
Got Billy's heart checked out...
Enjoyed the quiet on the way back from Anchorage...
Photographed a new baby...
Started a new walk-up counter for Destini's coffee shop...
Watched my little farmer girl be ecstatic over her eggs...
Was glad the boys got the transmission back in my truck...
Started our new bar stool project for the coffee shop...
Told Billy on more than one occasion to get the goat out of the house...
And yes...I squatted down, scraped my buns, and then pulled THIS out of my butt cheek! (oh...and painted the living room as you can see by my thumb. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Backwoods Bees

When I was a kid in Kasilof, Alaska, there was a honey store about a mile down the road. We’d pedal down there, present our quarter, and get a sample of honey such that I’ve not tasted since.  This year, as we move onto our off-grid property and make an attempt at becoming more self sufficient, we decided to add bee keeping…just to upkeep the ‘crazy’ status we’ve gained around town.  It sounded fun, provided a basic necessity for our family, and we knew absolutely nothing about it….so it was pretty much fit the bill of how we do things around here.

I perused the internet, found a site called Alaska Honey and talked to a woman named Sarah, who owns the company.  Turns out, Sarah (located in Kenai) is not only the ‘bees knees’ when it comes to hiving knowledge, but she also loves to share that knowledge with newby’s like me!  Sarah invited me over to see her woodshop where she builds hives, sold me a starter kit (and with how much time she puts into them, she can’t be making any money), and gave me a freebie lesson on starter beekeeping, including her cell number in case I had trouble. That was her first mistake…

The whole swarm moves as you tilt the box, in one big mass...

I ordered a five pound box of bees shipped in from Washington, picked them up on Friday night, and brought home my new pets. (Destini was not impressed with the buzzing box of stingers that spent the night on the bathroom counter.)

Saturday morning, coffee in  hand, Billy and I loaded up the bees, gathered supplies along with Sarah’s instructions, and headed up to our cabin property where the bees would make their home.

Here’s something I learned about bees. Probably everyone else in the world already knew this… But, bees cannot be moved once they are hived.  Apparently, they map their location in such exact detail for up to a four mile radius, that if you moved the hive ten feet away they would die in a heap where they last saw their hive.  So, unless you plan to move them more than six miles away, they should be placed initially in their permanent residence. Good to know.

While handling the sugar bags, I got some on me...this makes me nervous...

Billy and I picked a spot on your property that was quite a ways from our cabin, yet easily accessible.  I slipped the bee hat over my head, duct taped every possible opening in my clothing and prayed my three pair of pants and puffy shirts would keep me pain free.  Billy did the same, minus the bee hat, and loudly and repeatedly reminded me he is allergic to bees and swells up like the Stay-puff Marshmallow Man when stung.  Wimp.

We set up the box on a flat area in the woods.  The hive consists of several important layers, none of which I know the name or purpose of, and so I called Sarah to make sure they were in the right order. It didn’t made sense to me that the bottom is nothing more than a screen. Honey is liquid.  It seems as if in the Fall I’ll lift my box to find all the honey has dripped down into the earth.  But she assured me it was correct and so we proceeded.

The queen is inside that tiny box...the bees are very excited to see her.

First, I pulled the feeding can from the travel box to get to the queen.  This is when panic began, because as soon as I polled that feeding can out of the hole, the bees came at me like canon fire.  I then had to release the queen bee from her tiny hotel box within the bee box.  She has a bit of wax covering a hole to keep her in and the bees will release her over the next couple of days. I put her onto the frames (hanging file style boards the bees build their honeycombs on) along with two Ziplocks of sugar water to get them started.

And then, contrary to every instinct in my body, I dumped the bees out into the hive.

Thank God for three layers of thick clothing. I look puffy...but I'm safe!

Now, somewhere around this point I’m pretty sure I blacked out.  Billy says he could tell I was freaking out because…well…because I was calm.  I’m rarely quiet, so he knew something was wrong.  He later told me my hands were moving like lightening and all advice that had been given me about relaxing, not showing fear, and taking it slow…went right out the window when those bees swarmed my face. I don’t even remember half of this.

I dumped, dumped, dumped bees, shaking the box around and trying not to damage the merchandise.  When I thought I had most of them out, I put the box down, layered the covers in the appropriate order, and strapped it tight to keep the bears from breaking into my stash, all while reminding myself there was a purpose to the insanity.

We brushed the bees from my body with a little swishy broom, I did a wiggly dance to make sure they were all gone, and we loaded up into the car.  I called Sarah to tell her things had gone well and she instructed us to turn around and go back, because we’d left the shipping box, with quite a few bees, laying on the ground by the hive. Apparently the bees who did not make it in the initial dumping may not make it into the hive because they still smell their queen in the shipping box.  We whipped around, crawled back into our duct tape safety, and traipsed back into the woods.

The queen is in that tiny box on the left corner, already engulfed in her bees...

I lifted the lid to dump the rest of the bees, but in the few minutes since we’d left them, the bees had already attached themselves to the lid.  As I’d squashed many of them the first time I dropped the lid into place, we chose not to dump any more inside the hive…didn’t want to damage the merchandise.

This is what Billy looked like when I told him it was HIS turn...
This is Billy doing what his mommy says...
And this is Billy running away...

This time, I held the camera while Billy, feeling brave and manly, shook the remainder of the bees out on the hives ‘front porch’.  And then he ran like a scared little girl when one bee landed on his shoulder.  Wimp.  Minutes later, the bees were already making their way into the entrance in an awesome display of loyalty to their queen.  Wish my minions were that loyal.

Faithful minions seeking their queen...

I texted Sarah to let her know…as if she cared…that all had gone as planned and nobody had been stung or died a horrible death, other than a few unlucky bees I swatted in terror.

And so now we wait for the next step…though I’m not even sure what that is.  I’ll have to call Sarah to find out.

 

 

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 3-18-12

This week in my life…
"Go ahead...try to get to your truck."
"Going somewhere?"
Icicle...cheaper than a chew toy.
Spoiled
"Hint...hint..."
New Mama...my fridge is full of baby bottles.
There's a goat in my kitchen...that's normal.
Young moose blocking Destini's trip to her car...
And Dan and Robin chasing the moose away with the first available weapon...skis...while Destini cowers in the background trying to get to her car.

 

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 2-26-12

I watched a great sunset instead of going to the gym...

This Week In My Life I…

The small boys built dragons...
I did a photoshoot with Destini...and she froze her legs off...
And another...
And one more for fun...
And I spent some time with this girl...
And we became friends...
And Luke built some furniture from firewood....
And then I hung out at the Ninilchik cemetery...weird, I know...
Mossy cross...
And one more for fun...

Blockbuster Babies

My daughter Destini wrote this for a class this year…I thought it was really good so I thought I’d share. Destini is eighteen years old and a senior in high school.

                In most cases, “you’re going to have a new sibling” is a surprising, exciting, interesting, unusual experience for a family. For me, this happens about once a year. My parents live as foster parents and have for as long as I can remember.  In my 18 short years, starting at the young age of 5, I have had more than 18 siblings. My house has always seemed a sort of “Blockbuster” of children.

We have ‘New Releases’. The fragile, the angry, the dramatic, the traumatized. We get the young, scared ones whose lives have been nothing short of a horror movie. The small children who have just been ripped from their families…hot off the presses. Straight from the studio, where their few years have been illustrated and documented in an up-close-and-personal tale titled ‘Abuse, Drugs, and Things You’ll Never Understand, So You Love Your Parents Anyway’.

Also in the category of ‘New Release’ reside the older teenagers. Ones who have spent their whole lives in a secret, dysfunctional world where they were probably raised knowing how to cook meth, but not how to spell their own names. These kids usually come shy, quiet, and keeping to themselves. They stay strong, and never cry, because that would warrant either punishment or a complete lack of attention where they come from. They will make you laugh, cry, and find yourself overwhelmed with the desire to hug them. Usually these ‘New Releases’ won’t stay long …they are over-nighters. They’ll often be bounced around from home to home or eventually go back to their families.

The first example that comes to my mind in this category was the beautiful, popular girl from my English class. She sat in front of me, and always had the cutest clothes…and cutest boyfriends. I was always jealous of her, I remember. Until, of course, my mom got the phone call that this particular girl was at the hospital waiting on a foster family. She and her little sister had gotten torn from their mother just hours before after the cops discovered their mother was a well-known methamphetamine dealer. The girl, it was discovered, was already well addicted to meth. She was brought to our house on a long, silent drive, and proceeded to curl up on the hard wood floor in front of the fire place without a word. She didn’t care to wipe off the usually perfect makeup that smeared her face. Her breathing was heavy and she shook as she lay there. Meth Withdrawals. After hours of this, she found her way into the living room where she curled up and fell asleep in a chair. We offered her blankets, food, and pajamas, but she declined with a silent shake of her head. The girl was gone when I got up for school the next morning.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we get the ‘Old Releases’. They’re often older, with more pain in their eyes. These veterans of the system come as usually one or both of two things: angry or comedic. The angry ones often are beyond fixing. They’ve seen too much…you can see it in their faces. They cover up their pain by lashing out, because it remains the only thing that has ever worked. Sometimes it may seem the only thing that will get them attention. The comedic seem often overly rambunctious. Their jokes, bits, and anecdotes elevate to extrememely loud, so everyone will listen. But they have the same intentions as the angry. They use their comedy to cover up a past full of pain, and unthinkable horrors. Always friendly, always smiling, and always seeking attention. Regardless of how they cover it up, they’ve all gone through the same routine. 11 homes in six years… 15 in seven. The longest placement they’ve had did not surpass a month or two, before getting shuttled on to the next waiting family, who will reject them once more. We had an eight year old boy once who asked if he could stay for a long time… “like three months”.  The old releases, they’ve lived through the ringer.  Their life stories will make you cry by the time they recount the first five years of their lives. They don’t fly off the shelves nearly as fast as the new releases. No one wants the older versions.  Most just go from home to home until they get old enough to get cast out of the system on their own, because by the time they reach a certain age, why does it matter?

Last, there are the Classics, or lifers – either the lucky few who get adopted as babies, or the biological children who just have to watch from the sidelines. I’m a Classic, a biological, the only one who has mom’s nose and dad’s hair color. I watch the different stories from an outsider’s point of view, feeling guilty because I’ve always had parents who love me and I’ll never truly understand. I’m the babysitter, the big sister, and the tour guide. We’ve seen all the stories, from babies with AIDS, whose diapers we had to change wearing rubber gloves, to the little boy who came from a world of abuse and neglect yet still cried for his parents. Classics, we remain the mediators. We help decide who stays and who goes. We know all the stories, everyone’s background. We can immediately differentiate between new and old releases; between the angry and the comedic. We classics, we’ve mostly lived the good life. But we live here to help. We listen to the stories, and baby the ones who have grown out of getting babied, but just need the attention. Classics will stay around as comfort. Classics remain where you go when you need a feel-good moment, or a warm, simple evening. We always stay there.

My house remains the gateway. My house is the editing studio after immediate filming of a terrible story, or the last place an old release will land before their release in to society. We’ve seen all the stories, wiped innumerable tears, and taught the diagnosed unteachable. My parents are recognized as heroes in the foster-parenting world. They’ll rescue anybody, keep the most troubled children, and do their best to fix the unfixable. We live as a myriad of stories, backgrounds, and lost siblings. We are the Blockbuster of misplaced children.

At The End Of The Trail

As I sit in the Alaska dark, waiting for Spring, I can feel the grit beneath my nails, the sweat across the back of my neck and the ache of my arms after a day in the woods.  The course skin of hands, dry and stiff from the leather of my gloves, the grain of the bark against bare forearms, scraping the skin as I tug and pull a log onto the mill.

Six miles up the road from my house is the land I call home, buried beneath the depths of ice and snow, months away from weather that will allow us in.  I can feel it pulling.  I’ve not spent one night on its soil, nor cooked a meal under a roof within its boundaries.  I’ve not grown a vegetable there, or dug a foundation, or spent a winter within the narrow walls of the cabin we’ve begun to create.

But it is my home.  Just as sure as I am sitting here, I know that.  For I do not own the land…the land has ownership of me.

And it is on that land I will find that which I have sought, all these years of searching, finally come to an end.  It is there, amidst straight spruce and thick birch, in the depth of the fields and the dark of the alders, where I will discover a small hint of what did lie in the hearts of those homesteaders, so many years ago.

They had the passion…those frontier men and women…which is now lacking in so many.   They strived forward, not seeking the future of modern civilization, but lunged forward into their past, looking for the base of what was and what was to be.  They didn’t intend to be legendary…they fell into it be chance, out of a hope for something better, something solid, something pure.

And when I get there, on my land, I’ll raise up my family as I should have years ago, when I was so busy getting ahead, gathering things, and plunging headlong into the American Dream…my path mapped out before me by my peers…mortgage, toys, the esteem of thy neighbor…bigger, better, faster.  Isn’t that the way it was supposed to be? In retrospect, I had a choice…I just didn’t choose to listen.

I sit here tonight in the Alaska dark, daydreaming about what will be.  Months from now, when the snow dissipates and daylight reigns, I’ll trek my family home, onto the land which will raise us.  And in the thick of the trees I’ll plant my children; I’ll sit upon on my porch and watch them grow.

Emmerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

And so I shall.

They Pay Me To Live Here

Whenever I tell people from the lower 48 that I live in Alaska, I inevitably hear the same question:

“Don’t they pay you to live there?”

It’s kind of like saying, “Why the heck would you live in that frozen wasteland? Oh yea…that’s right…they pay you.”

They are referring, of course, to the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, which is doled out every October to each citizen of Alaska. It’s a throwback from the eighties, when oil money abounded and the population of Alaska was less than one person per square mile. It continues because no politician is brave enough to end their career by voting it down.

The 2009 check equated to $3.58 per day. That’s the price of ½ gallon of milk at the general store near my house. That’s also one gallon of heating fuel; a pound of apples; 1/3 a block of cheese or half a box of cereal. It will get me a cup of fancy coffee or a quarter-pounder at McDonalds. Yea, that’s why I live here…because they pay me.

Or it could be because…

In Alaska there are no crickets, no skunks, no raccoons and no smelly opossums. No deadly spiders, no scorpions or snakes. That’s right…I said no snakes.

I live here because there are no rules, no restrictions, no retaliations that I disagree with.

If I want to throw up a shack, on my own land, and cover it with a blue tarp, I can. There are no permits, no approvals, no inspections. It’s my land, my tarp, my life…and nobody cares.

In Alaska our beaches aren’t littered with garbage or lined with beach umbrellas and you can bet nobody’s nude. Ours are sandy shores, crashing waves and lines of fishing boats, waiting for the tide to bring them home.

I live here because every teacher knows my kids current grade off the top of their head and which missing assignments will keep them from playing ball. I live here because when the high school shop teacher asks someone to cut something, three kids whip out their pocket knife and nobody is afraid.

I live here because I can step outside, point myself in any direction, and in ten minutes I can lose myself in complete isolation. 

I live here because every ninth grader in Alaska knows who won the Iditarod last year, and most of them have never seen a gang member. They know what hard work is because they throw fish, like their fathers before them or are brought up around kids who do…and have seen their bank accounts.

I live here because when my kids look out their school windows, they don’t see skyscrapers or smog. They see three volcanoes, a beach and their family’s fishing vessels coming in with the days catch…their dads waving to them from the decks.

In Alaska, there are no traffic jams. There are no freeways. No forty-car-pileups. No circling the mall for parking. In the winter I don’t wait in line for anything—ever. In the summer, I meet the most interesting visitors, waiting in line.  After all, I’m not in a hurry…I’m already where I want to be.

Now that I think about it, I’m sure glad they pay me to live here.


Just Another Scenic Sunday 1/22/12


witnessed beauty on the Kenai River...

This week in my life I…

Made friends with this guy...
Took the boys out woodcutting...(that's right...bravely sharing my outdoor hair...)
...wore them...er..me...out...
Got into the groove of home schooling...
Learned valuable survival skills...at the expense of some bunnies...:-(
And discovered that hunting...is NOT Luke's thing!

Damn Her

 

A while back I had Billy into the local clinic for a sports physical.  The doctor scanned his chart, did some quick work with his stethoscope, and said, “How long has it been since he has seen the heart specialist?”

“A few years,” I said.  “They told me it was nothing to worry about.”

“You should take him again,” he advised.  “Just as a precaution.  I can hear it pretty strong.”

Billy has two separate heart murmurs.  No big deal, they say.  Lots of people have heart murmurs.

“It won’t affect him now, at 17, because he’s young.  But when he is thirty or forty, it’s going to slow him down,” the doctor warned.

See, there is a valve that doesn’t quite work right in the left side of his heart.  When the blood is supposed to pump down, into the body, a good portion of it goes in reverse and squirts back up into the top of his heart.  This lack of circulation makes him have to rise from a seating position a little more slowly than others…or he blacks out. He’s been known to fall down stairs…hit the floor as he rises from the couch…and face plant in the snow after a long car ride.

His hands and feet go dead when they get cold…turn completely white.  Like this page.  And they hurt.  Once when he was about twelve, while playing outside, he lost circulation to his head without knowing it.  When he came back into the house and stood near the woodstove, the blood came back with a rush…as near as we can tell…and for forty-five minutes…he screamed.  He clutched my arm and screamed, “Mom…help me…”  for forty-five long minutes.   An ambulance ride later the pain subsided.

Other than that the heart condition has not really been an issue. He’s always been cleared to play sports.  And he sometimes tires easily…but he pushes through it because that’s who he is.

The frustrating part is…all of this is caused by a birth mother who chose to drink alcohol and use methamphetamine drugs while she was pregnant.

Most of my children’s lives are forever affected by some form of substance abuse.  Their brains…damaged. Their bodies, ill-formed.  Their quality of life, their futures, their potential in this world, permanently changed because of a birth mother who made bad choices…who delegated these children’s paths, forever, out of her own selfishness… before they were even born.

It won’t affect him now…they say…and yet it does.  At three.  At seventeen. At thirty. Every single day.

We look at each other across the doctor’s office and our eyes meet.  Billy kind of smiles slightly and shakes his head.  I return the look, knowing that we are once again thinking the same thing about his “mom”…as we have many times before.

Something all of my adopted kids have thought at one time or another. When she calls drunk.  When she never calls at all.  When she lies.  When she makes excuses.  When she doesn’t come to see them.  When she disappears from their lives as if they never existed.  When she drank…or smoked…or shot up and destroyed their chances at “normal”…when she walked away.

Damn her, we’re thinking.  Damn her for breaking his heart.

I Am Mom…Do I Work?

Last year my daughter was assigned to interview a person about their job for school.  She asked, “Can I interview my mom?”

“Does she work?” asked the teacher.

Hmmmm…do I work…

For the better part of my adult life I’ve been at home with my kids.  I don’t have a ‘job’.  I don’t get a paycheck.  I don’t get fifteen minute breaks, paid vacation or accrue overtime.

I am the cleaner-upper when a kid vomits all over her waste length hair at two a.m

I am a crawl inside the tub of icy water, hold the baby close because she’s burning up with fever…and know her screams are caused by my own hands…mom.  That’s MY JOB.

I am the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa.  I am a stealth wrapper, stuffer, hider and under-pillow-slider, moving through the house like a silent breeze, leaving behind magic, wonder, faith and awe.

I am a calendar.  I remember clarinets, swimsuits, science projects, lunches, homework, gym clothes, snow pants, boots and backpacks all in the ten seconds before walking out the door.

I am a detective.  I know who brushed their teeth and who only ran the water.  I know which one didn’t put on clean underwear.  I know if that quarter belongs to that child.  I know what pot smells like…and what ‘high’ acts like.

I am a lie detector.

I am a cookie maker, car-pooler, laundry-doer, rash-investigator, plate-scraper, booboo kisser, homework checker.

I am the bench-sitters biggest fan…at every…single…game.  I’m the picture-taker, the memory-maker, the Facebook photo poster…so the moms who have to work…who pout and stomp their feet and still have to miss the game…can get a glimpse at their child’s best moment ever…and know I was there to love in their place.

I am an advocate for special needs education.  I am a lazy teacher’s worst nightmare.  I am a good teacher’s biggest defender.

I am hope for the ‘over-coming’ one.  I am a fixer of broken children.

I am a bedtime reader, snack-giver, milk pourer, ear cleaner.  I’m a knock-knock joke ‘who’s there-er’, a home-made necklace wearer, and an “I-made-this-for-you” collector.

I am the one who is often jealous of those women who have a “job” or a “life” outside of their kids.  I envy their self-worth, their active brain cells, and their non-sweats-wardrobe.  I’m glad they can do it all.  I’m happy if they’ve found a balance…and I’m sad if they haven’t.

But I am also a thankful, husband-loving, kid-raising stay-at-home mom…grateful every single day that I was given the opportunity to CHOOSE this life.

I am a mom.

Do I work?  Hell yes, I do.

SNOW DAY!

Anderson Hill, near Ninilchik, Alaska…

In celebration of our first completed week doing our schooling at home…and after all the kids were finished with their work…we hit the sledding hill down the road.  Billy built a jump…and it was all ‘downhill’ from there!

Luke…has…no…nerve…endings. He bursts throug the jump…
He face plants...
And he comes up smiling!

 

And then he does it again!
Mya takes the plunge...

Billy attempts snow boarding…

 

It doesn't really work out for him...

 

Nice landing...
Billy watches the kids take the jump...

 

Steven has a style all his own...

 

Smiling as always...

 

Robin bursts into the scene...

 

And since she also has no nerve endings...

 

She survives the hit...
Robin takes a break...
Billy goes again...

 

Luke kept losing his sled down the hill...so we told him to HOLD ON to it...

 

And he does...to the bitter end.

 

 

He starts to twist...

 

Figures he may as well attempt a backflip...
Such style...
Robin hits the scene in reverse!

 

Keeps on going...

 

And lands with style!

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 01/01/12

My mom and dad...my brothers family...and mine. All together for the first time in about fourteen years...

 THIS week in my life I….

Gave Billy a razor for his three chin hairs…

Watched the kids enjoy the simple things on New Years Eve…

 

Discovered borderline frostbite on Anthony's cheeks while sledding...

 

Took the kids to a dear friends house for New Years...awesome salmon tacos...

 

Caught all the grandsons in a totem pole at my parents house...

 

Watched the kids sink lower...the more they ate...

 

Saw what "happy" looks like...

 

Watched Luke fall in love with reading...thanks to technology...

 

Was sad at Destini's last Christmas as a child...

 

Found out what Anthony and Steven have been up to with the drums and guitar...

 

And the best part...had all my kids together for the first time in a very long time...

 

 

 

 

Three Small Things

Originally written in May, 2011…re-posting.

A small brush fire near my home last night brought a trooper to my door saying to prepare for the worst…the wind was taking it our direction…be ready to leave without warning.  Warning. Wasn’t that what he just gave us?

I went back into the house and gathered the children.  “Pack your school backpack with some good clothes,” I told them.  “And three small things that are important to you.”

Three small things.  It seemed like a good number.  Then I Facebooked what was happening…because what else would I do?

I went to my bedroom closet and pulled out two tubs of photographs.  I grabbed my childhood teddy bear from my headboard and stuffed him in the box.  I loaded my laptop, my camera, my hard drive and my photos into the truck. Done.  I went to check on the kids.

Anthony was in his room carefully scanning his things.  He’d loaded a shoe box of special books, his drawing notebook, and three dirty socks.  He then shoved his six dollars into his pocket.  He left behind the tattered stack of photos of his birth family that had been lying next to the money.  Interesting.

The two small boys, who’ve only been here since February, were carefully watching the commotion.  They’d each put one pair of jeans and a shirt in their bag and waited by the door.  That’s it.  That is all they wanted.  Kids who shuffle through the system don’t attach to anyone…or anything.  Everything they’d ever needed was standing next to them, holding a matching Spiderman backpack.

I stood on the back deck.  Our normally silent neighborhood was filled with sirens, helicopters, spotter planes circling overhead.   The road that passes our house, usually used once a day by one neighbor checking on his horses, was a superhighway of curious onlookers…checking what was happening…seeing how much time they had to find their three small things.

Text messages came in from people on scene. Someone had fired up a dozer and was building a dirt wall around a friend’s home.  Firefighters from 50 miles away were on scene along with our local volunteers, fighting to save their neighbors’ homes.  Within minutes of the first sign of smoke help flooded in from all over. Miracle workers…ordinary people…risking their lives for us.

Billy emerged from the shop where he’d scanned the tools, deciding what daddy would want…since he was helplessly at work, waiting to hear news.  He and I loaded our best four-wheeler into the back of the truck, glanced at all the snow machines, the off-road projects, the plow truck, the 1200 square feet of wall to wall tools, the years of compilation…and then looked away.  Nothing we could do.

Robin leaned against the rail of the deck, watching the commotion.  She’d put Mya’s hamster in the truck, since Mya wasn’t home, and had her history book in hand…ready to throw it to the flames.

“That’s the great thing about being adopted,” she said in her sarcastic way.  “No childhood memories to pack up.  I’m ready to go.”

Destini came from her bedroom with a duffle bag, her purse, and Patch, her stuffed Dalmatian.

“That’s all you’re taking?” I asked.

“It was weird,” she said.  “I stood there in my full room, looking around at my clothes, all the collectibles, the things I’d had forever…and suddenly none of it really mattered.”

None of it really mattered.

When it came down to it…when we thought we may have just minutes to gather our most important things…each one of us on our own had made the split second decision to leave it all behind.

I’d packed my photos and the computer that held my photos and didn’t even consider anything else.  Destini had left behind 17 years worth of living and carried a favorite stuffed dog.  Billy had brought nothing of his own…but tried to salvage things for daddy.  Robin had pondered the bright side of having no memories to gather, and thought only of the pets.  Anthony had abandoned his birth family photos in favor of six bucks.  And two boys who’d never had anything to begin with walked away without even flinching…like they’d done so many times before.

And now I sit here in all my clutter of crap and wonder why we spend our lives accumulating things that in the end….never even mattered at all.

Adoption Day

In February of this year our family grew by two when Steven and Luke came to live with us.  Tomorrow morning, the 19th of December, 2011, we welcome them into our family permanently in the Homer, Alaska courthouse.

These guys aren’t complicated kids. They don’t understand the size of the world and they don’t know much about the things in it.  They don’t know about city buses or traffic rules.  They don’t know there are theaters that play ten movies.  They don’t know about politics or government.  They don’t know about skyscrapers and gangs, borders or the color of skin.  They don’t know about much of anything outside their small world.  And they don’t care.

Because they know how to survive from what they can find on the beach.  They know which sea creature to pull from which rock and that they can eat this one raw, and this one not.    They know about fishing and working with their hands. They know about being tough.  They know about being hungry and they know what to do about it.  These guys know about starting a fire and they can walk outside in the dead of winter in shorts and not be cold.  They know how to make do.  They know how to make a family out of just the two of them and they know how to stick together.  They are survivors in every aspect…and in that way, they make all those worldly “smart” kids…look dumb.

They don’t know big words.  And they don’t make big sentences.

But “adoption”…they know that one. It means they are here for good.

The word “adopted”, to these two, is huge.  They love to say it.  They love to talk about it.  They love the way the word “adoption day” rolls from their tongues.

And they like the way that feels.  They like the way that sounds.  They like the way that…is.

“I will change your name.  You shall no longer be called…wounded…outcast…lonely or afraid. I will change your name.  Your new name shall be…confidence…joyfulness…Overcoming One…Faithfulness…Friend of God…One Who Seeks My Face.”  

 

The Shield Of Confidence

 

In 2004 I graduated with a 3.89 GPA from one of the highest rated private colleges on the west coast.  And I did so, while parenting eight children, six of whom had some kind of special need.  My final semester I managed 25 credits at two different colleges, picking up some missing credits at the local community college so I could complete my B.A. in the four year time slot I’d given myself.

I’m smart.  I’m capable.  I’m a survivor…and I know this about myself.  Without doubt. I feel good about my accomplishments and I’m proud of who I am. I say that…with confidence.

And yet, on a daily basis, I question myself.  I experience self-doubt over everything.  And I continually assume people are looking down on me for something, anything, everything.

It’s called self-value and though most days I feel quite solid, the smallest, most meaningless comment from someone…even a stranger…brings up in me once again, that lack of confidence I carried as my shield and crutch, for so many years.

It has been my constant companion, these four decades, and I’m tired of it.

I don’t dress fancy. I don’t own a dress. I don’t spend more than sixteen seconds on my hair and my mascara tube has long ago dried up.  And more often than not, I’ve coffee dribbled down the front of my shirt just seconds before walking into a meeting, like I did this morning.  My words don’t come out the way I want them to and I worry I sound “backwoods” when I speak.  My thoughts, though they make perfect sense inside my head, often come from my mouth in seemingly some illogical jumble of miscommunication and I wonder if I sound like the incompetent child that is hiding inside.

And then I want to crawl back into the hole of hiding, behind the shield of protection I carry, where nobody can judge me and where I can again, feel good about myself.

I wonder, as do so many I hope, how to heal those old scars.  How to finally feel like a “grown-up”.  How to place myself on an even plane with the rest of the world.

It’s interesting, actually, how others seem to ooze self confidence while I pretend to do the same, all the while feeling like a little girl dressed in her mother’s high heels, playing grownup and hoping nobody notices I’m not what I pretend to be.  I’m wondering how long before the world catches on that I’m really just twelve, in a grown-up shell, still lost and floundering, not knowing what I want to be when I grow up.

And I say these things not so people will tell me good things, or pump my ego with cry’s of support.  I say them because they are real, these annoyances of self-doubt that run my life.  They are inside me…and I wonder if I’m the only one.

Tell me I’m not the only fairly successful, confident person out there who struggles with this.  Tell me, now that I’m in my forty’s, that this will go away!

Tell me…I’m not crazy!

 

 

A Trip To Good News Bay

I put in a call to a client a few years back to arrange a trip into the village of Good News Bay, Alaska, where I would assess an adoptive situation and write a report for the courts either approving, or denying, the potential adoptive placement.

The young woman who answered the phone sought to adopt the three year old she’d been raising from birth and the State of Alaska wanted me to check it out.  So I dialed the number.

It sounds like a broad statement when I say that Alaska Native people, in general, are people of few words.  If you can make your point in three words, why bother making more words…there was work to be done, seemed to be their theory.  And so my conversations were always interesting, as I am a turbo tongue…and never in my life have I conveyed a thought in less than three hundred words.

I explained the reason for my visit, told her my fly in date, and asked if she could pick me up at the airstrip.

“Yea, I might pick you up,” she said.  “If my Honda will start.”

If?  If her Honda will start, she might pick me up?  If?

I pictured myself standing in the middle of the tundra, miles from anything, nothing but ice for as far as I could see…listening for the distant sound of a four-wheeler, putting my way.  If it would start.

This was pretty much the end of the conversation.  She might pick me up if her Honda would start.

So I packed my duffel with enough for an overnight stay and hoped to get in and out in one day.  I flew via typical commercial flight from Kenai to Anchorage, then on to Bethel, a village of substantial size towards the western coast of Alaska.

From Bethel I climbed into a plane that held four, including the pilot, and buckled up for the ride.  Some people can tell you what kind of plane I was in, but my dad has had an airplane my entire life and for a thousand bucks, I couldn’t tell you what kind it is.  The plane I was in was small, and just like every other bush plane I’d ever ridden in, it was apparent the owner had been grossly overcharged…I’ve seen six year olds build model airplanes more stout.  But alas, it was my only mode of transport…and I had a job to do.

Little is as intoxicating, despite the ill repair of the craft, as floating through the sky over Alaska’s desolate terrain.  From Bethel, we flew for about an hour and a half.  Once in a while the pilot would begin a decent and I’d search the white space below for some sign of life, suspecting we were about to land for no particular reason at all.  I’d squint out the window and eventually spy a village, coated in snow, perched on the side of some winding, no name, piece of water in the midst of all the nothing.  We’d land, hand a package or box of mail to some guy on a snow machine who appeared from nowhere across the frozen tundra, and then we’d take to the air once again. At one of the stops I asked if I could use a bathroom and the pilot, as well as the other passengers, just stared at me.  And then I realized there were no buildings for probably hundreds of miles in either direction, just some guy buried inside a fur lined parka, loading his sled with canned goods and mail.

We landed in Good News Bay, population 250, and as it turned out the airstrip was really just the frozen bay and the village was literally sitting on the edge.  I exited the plane to find that my client had indeed been able to start her Honda, and she waited, engine running.  I climbed on behind her and we putted up the bank, into the village, and parked at her tiny house. I could have thrown my duffel bag from the airplane to the village edge, and realized she had gone to more trouble getting her Honda to start, than it would have been to just pull my hood around my face and walk up to her small home.

Village houses are more like shanty’s, for the most part.  People who have never been to an Alaska village can’t possibly fathom the simplicity of life there.  The housing, if not government provided for certain jobs, is often no more than a group of weathered shacks, huddled together, warding out the weather. The smaller the better, as there is no firewood with which to heat and heating fuel is upwards of six dollars a gallon. Often entire extended families will cram into a one bedroom house because that is, quite simply, all there is.

I immediately asked to use the bathroom, and she shyly showed me her bucket. I assured her I’d peed in many a bucket in my day, and she smiled, knowing I was lying.  She told me that there used to be no sewer system in the town at all and that when she was growing up, the “honey bucket” was simply dumped outside after each use.  In the winter time, she said, the urine and waste would literally run down the streets and freeze solid.  Now, there was a better system in place.  Using the bucket, I felt guilty for having drank so much water before my flight…knowing she would have to transport my urine after I left, for disposal.

We spent a few hours talking about her daughter.  A formality, really, as she’d been raising the three year old from birth and nobody else in the village was waiting in line to take her in.  We filled out the necessary papers and visited about life in the village. About half way through our interview a neighbor stopped by with a white bird he’d shot, asking if she needed some food.  Excited, she plopped it right down on the kitchen floor, fresh blood still dripping from its wound, and began to pluck its feathers.   I sat down with her and watched her prepare our lunch…fresh from the kill and onto our plates in less than an hour.

The same fellow that brought her the bird had invited me to stay over and head up the river with them to catch some fish that night.  And though “up river” at night on a snowmachine in ten degrees below zero sounded like an adventure…and I’m not being sarcastic…I had to pass, as I had a series of flights to catch back home.

We loaded back on the Honda that afternoon, which did have a little trouble starting, and took a little tour of the village before heading down the embankment to the airplane.  We rode to the top of a slight incline and looked down on the area.  The cemetery perched above the people, as it does in most Native Alaska villages, as if they were keeping watch on the living.  Too cold to explore further, we headed back to the edge of the bay just as the plane came in to pick me up.  I climbed back into the same craft, buckled in, and waved goodbye to Good News Bay…glad I’d come, and hoping to one day return.

Children Will Remember

As parents, we spend our lives trying to be good enough.  Trying to keep up.  We worry that we’ve failed.  We worry that we’ve screwed up our kids to the point of no return because somehow we’ve not been good enough…as parents.  But let me explain something.

Our children will not remember their childhood the way we think they will.

They won’t remember if your hair was doing that ‘woohoo’ thing at their Christmas concert.  They will remember that when they entered the gym, their eyes scanned the bleachers and locked with yours.

They won’t notice if they found their cereal bowl in the cupboard or in the dishwasher or even if they had to wash it themselves once in a while.  They will remember that on Sundays, you made happy face pancakes.

They won’t have a clue that one Christmas you were flat broke and they got fewer toys.  They will remember that you made them a quilt out of old t-shirts and they will use it to swaddle their own children.

They will not remember that you cleaned and scrubbed while they were playing outside.  They will remember that once you knelt in the dirt pile and vroomed Hotwheels with them all afternoon.

They will not see the holes in their jeans, care about mismatched socks, or remember what brand of purse you carried.  They will remember the smell of daddy’s t-shirt he let them wear to bed…long after he’s gone.

They won’t remember going to the theater with friends.  They will remember being pressed against your thigh on the couch, watching a movie, one hand in the popcorn bowl.

They won’t remember that you didn’t hike as fast as they did.  They will remember that you climbed to the top of the steepest mountain, just to show them the view.

They will never recall the smell of the fancy dinners you prepared on the holidays.  They will remember  every single hotdog they cooked over an open fire and the way you knew they didn’t like mustard.

They won’t care if their bed was never made or that the blanket didn’t match their curtains.  They will remember the way it felt when you tucked the blankets around them and called them a burrito baby.

They will not care what you looked like in a swim suit.  They will remember that you went on the field trip to the pool anyway and were the one parent who didn’t sit to the side and watch.

They will not have lifelong damage from mud overdose.  They will remember the way the ooze felt between their toes and the look on your face when you found them…and joined in.

SO step away from the dishes.  Leave that pile of laundry on the couch, forget about homework once in a while.  Unclench your jaw and relax.  That’s what I’m going to try to do.

Because when I am old and I am gray, and I cannot do the things that I can do today…my children will not remember that my dishes were foul.  My children will remember that I could run…I could whoop…and I could howl.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 11/06/11

Watched Billy's OCD come out in a snowman...

 

This week in my life I….

Had our first snowfall of the year...

 

Watched my girls dominate the court...

 

Sadly watched Destini's last volleyball season drift by...

 

Got our cabin weathered in...

 

Wondered why we built it so small...

 

Proved that genetics have nothing to do with being sisters...

 

Doused Destini and Chelseafor the sake of good pictures and some laughs...

 

Didn't warn her it was coming...

 

And then laughed hysterically...

 

Wondered if Robin had springs in her shoes...

 

And snapped Destini in the sunset of a windstorm.

 

It’s The Little Things…

It’s the little things that get to you.

It’s the, “Not Me” that always gets blamed.  The Birds and the Bees that needs explained.

It’s the cookies hidden beneath the bed.  The fifteen millionth book to be read.

The science fair project that’s due tomorrow.  The hand held out, wanting to borrow.

It’s the crusty, inside out, balled up socks.  It’s the collection of bugs, and the one of rocks.

 

It’s the little things that get to you.

 

It’s the piddle on the toilet seat.  The “mom, you know I don’t eat meat.”

The toothpaste smeared inside the sink. The “momma, can I have a drink?”

It’s the washcloth on the bathroom floor.  The slamming of the gosh-darn door.

It’s the peanut butter knife embossed to the plate.  The “But you never said I couldn’t date.”

 

It’s the little things that get to you.

 

It’s the had-to-have-pup that’s never fed.  The rapid-fire vomit on the edge of the bed.

It’s the missing shoe that’s gone forever.  The ‘ma, what happens if I pull this lever?”

It’s the soaking coat left in the rain.  The Easter dress with the ketchup stain.

It’s ‘yes, the cats have water,’ when they clearly don’t.  It’s litter box scoopers and the “no, I won’t.”

 

It’s the little things that get to you.

 

It’s the grad night party.  It’s the letting go. It’swaiting by the window for headlights to show.

It’s that tiny fist, striking out on its own.  It’s the thought of them leaving.  Of being alone.

It’s the months before college, those last few days. When those little things, is all you crave.

It’s those moments called ‘life’…and you hadn’t a clue.  It was the little things that would get to you.

The Root Of All…

This morning Anthony asked if any of his birth relatives had been approved for visits…like an uncle or cousin.  When I asked why, he said, “I’d kinda like to know my roots.”

Roots.

By definition the root is the foundation.  It is the beginning, the base.   It is the fundamental cause or essence of something…the source of derivation.  It is the giver of life.  My son wants to know where his life source comes from…makes sense to me.

Adoption … screwing up genealogy, one court room at a time…

We are an open to contact adoptive family, unlike some.  As long as the family members are appropriate, we are open.  Mya talks to her mom every couple of weeks.   I applaud her mother’s efforts, though they’ve been limited to phone and there has been no actual contact in seven years.  That effort is priceless in the mind of a child.  I once overheard Robin say to Mya, “At least your mom calls…I don’t even know where mine is.”  A phone call.  A card.  So simple.

It takes little to impress a child who is eager to accept and yearning for some small sign they are wanted.

Last year for a school project Billy had to create a family tree going back four generations.  This is always a touchy subject in my house, as I’m constantly irritated by school assignments that require a child to have information beyond their control.  Nothing like a graded paper to remind my kids of years they’d rather forget and people who they thought they left behind.  His teacher said he could certainly use his adoptive family…they are his family, after all.  But he surprised us by making the assignment even more difficult than it had to be…and he chose to research his birth family.

Looking for roots, I imagine.

With the help of Ancestry.com, we were able to trace his family tree.  We found relatives on both sides dating back as far as the eighteenth century, documenting who he is…his blood line.   It was exciting for him to see those names, even in print on a screen, because somehow it made it more real.

Perhaps, it made him feel more real.

My kids all come from giant families.  Anthony is one of nine children, seven surviving.  Billy and Robin have three other sisters that they know of, Mya has at least four half siblings and Steven and Luke have a family so large we rarely leave the house without passing a relative.  These families mean something to these kids.  They are their blood, their resemblance, and for some, their only good memories in a lifetime of horror.  Older siblings raise younger ones in families like theirs and there are connections there that are irreplaceable for some.

And now Anthony wants to walk that path.  Not birth parents, he says.  (which I would never allow and he has no desire for…) “Just some cousin who might be a nice guy.”  And so the search will be on.  We may not contact, depending on the relative, but the information must be out there.

And I feel that if a kid is old enough to know he has ‘roots’…for better or worse, he’s old enough to know what they are.

 

Just Another Scenic Sunday 10-16-11

This Week In My Life I...

 

Took a nice drive to Anchorage…
Saw what every Alaskan knows is the end of summer...
Had a fancy lunch with a friend...
Enjoyed the mountains, as always...
Walked the shores of Kenai Lake...
Tried to find a bear along the river...
Left my camera lens sitting on that rock...
Hung with Mya...
Enjoyed the view from my driveway again....and again...
Walked the Fall beach...
Used the bathroom with the best view...
Spied on the movie crew for Walking With The Dinosaurs....
Hung with some swans...
And really enjoyed photographing my world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sawmill Saga

In August, shortly after we purchased our 40 acres, we acquired a portable band saw mill with the intent of creating our own lumber with which to build our own home. But first…knowing we couldn’t afford to complete a home this year nor did we have time to begin with winter nearing…we decided to build a cabin.

Our mill is a band saw mill, as opposed to a circular blade, which is less expensive to buy, but doesn’t make the prettiest lumber. We figured our boards would be inside a wall where nobody would ever see them, so we went with cheap and picked up this little mill from a neighbor for a great deal.  We hauled her out of their woods and set her up in ours.

Since we knew little or nothing about a saw mill or how they worked, there was quite the learning curve involved.  Because Alaska logs are neither large nor straight.  And when it takes you an hour to create four 2×6 boards…the last thing you want to deal with is curvy, lumpy, tapered logs. But alas, that is what we had in abundance.  So we set to work.

And then we taught the kids how to use it because…well…we don’t believe in child labor laws and if they want a roof over their heads, they are going to get sweaty. Except Destini…her motto is, “I’m outta here in a year”…so she’s not exactly been the biggest helper. But she looks cute and is a princess, so we’ll let her slide.

We started out by making 2×6 boards because we knew we would need plenty of them.  Any log larger than 8 inches is worth cutting because we can get 3 boards from it.  Any smaller than that and it’s just a waste of time since the longest part is creating a square piece of wood to work with.  We’ve gotten as many as 12 boards from one giant log but on average, we’re getting 3-5 from a log. We needed 125 2×6 boards…just to get the first floor walls up.  70 for the floor frame and so one…so do the math and you’ll see how busy we’ve been creating lumber…sometimes in the pouring rain.

We decided on a pier and post foundation for our cabin because it’s cheap, easy, and gets the cabin up off the cold ground.  So Billy and I made 12 6×6 posts 8-10 feet long and we buried them four feet in the ground which left uneven legnths sticking up from the ground.  We packed sand around them until they were sturdy and then cut them all off even using a level and long piece of wood until all our posts were level.

Next we made 2 sided 6×6 beams to lay across our piers on which to place the cabin frame.  Billy built a wall with them and then karate kicked it over, because sometimes you just  need to have fun.  We then laid them across our piers and pounded spikes in to hold them in place.

We used our home built lumber to frame in the entire floor.  30 x 21 including a four foot porch off the front, leaving us with a 26 x 21 cabin.  Words of advice…even though you think that extra foot is going to be really helpful inside the cabin…do NOT try to build something not devidable by two because it will screw you through the entire building process.  Very single piece of plywood and lumber now has to be cut down and though we gained a foot overall, it added cost and labor to the project…which Dan will not let me forget since I added that foot while he was at work. 🙂

Once the floor was framed we had to decide whether to use our home built 1″ boards as slats for the floor or to purchase T and G plywood.  We went with store bought because our sawmill, though very cool, does NOT always cut everything the exact same dimensions and we didn’t want to stub our toe every time we walked across the floor. We will, however, be covering the plywood eventually with our own planks as I intend to plain them smooth and dimensional this winter and sand them smooth.  When complete, we will have a gorgeous 1″ plank floor, sanded and varnished.  I can’t wait.

This week we hit a barrier.  We kept snapping saw blades, because they were old and rusty, and had trouble finding a supplier.  By the time we did, we were down two blades and the supplier informed us it would be two weeks before we could have them custom built.  Two weeks in an Alaskan fall means winter will be upon us.  Two weeks can be the differeence between 5o degrees and dry, and 30 degrees and frozen.

And so we had to make an other difficult decision. Though in our hearts we wanted to make all of our own lumber from our own land, we knew we had a time limit.  Dan had to go back to work this Friday and snow hit the hills just beyond our place. So once again, we were forced to buy manufactured lumber for our walls.  It made us sad at first…and then when we realized the weeks of labor it would save, we became excited.  We knew we would be dried in before the freeze up.

Today we frame in the second wall, which will be a short stub wall, and begin the roof line. Since Dan is waiting in the truck…I’d better run!

Oh…and sometimes…we just have fun!

Just Another Scenic Sunday 9/25/11

This Week In MY Life I....
Built a floor for our cabin...

Enjoyed the Fall view from our property...
Made friends with this guy...until his momma came and then we hid in the truck...
Rafted the Kenai River with Luke and his class...

Dressed my kids for "I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead Wearing That" day at school...
Saw a beauty of a rainbow out my front door...
Found out what Destini does in the shower...
Saw some spectacular Fall weather...
Hung with my bff Sandi and her newly adopted little guy...

Watched kids who don't have t.v. channels be creative...
Loved the clouds...
And romped at the beach with some friends!!!

 

Whaling Away Her Youth

Photo courtesy Charles Lampe-Kaktovik, Alaska

Yesterday Sandi’s daughter, Kendra, climbed into a twenty foot boat with a group of close friends and family.  They pushed into the Arctic Ocean off the shores of Kaktovik/Barter Island…the only permanent settlement in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the North Slope of Alaska.  They scanned the waters and hunted just as their ancestors have done for centuries.  A boat in their crew spotted a whale, harpooned it, and dragged it home.  Kendra, who felt a little sad as the magnificent mammal drew its last breath, was soon after elated at the significance of what she’d witnessed.

And while her teenage peers are lounging on a sofa, somewhere in the deep inner city, watching reality television with a remote in hand…Kendra, seventeen, is living her reality on the open bow of an ocean vessel, learning the ways of the harpoon and how to feed her family.

Photo courtesy Sandi Semaken

But Kendra has had the unique opportunity of living both lives.  Last year Kendra lived in California and experienced the fast paced city life.  Now she is spending a year in the Inupiaq village which is her heritage, learning the culture, the trades, the ancient ways of her people.

Photo Courtesy Sandi Semaken

Teenagers…any teenager…will adapt to their environment.

Stick them in a gang infested area…and they will adapt.  Drop them into the wilderness with nothing but a pocket knife and they will adapt.  Stick a tomboy seventh grade girl in with a group of giggling teenyboppers, and they will have makeup on her by morning.  I’ve seen it happen.

Teenagers…for the most part…are like chameleons.  Their beliefs, their ideals, their sense of reality, are changeable depending on who is influencing them at the moment. If that weren’t true there would be no such thing as peer pressure.  There would be no keggers, no party bongs, no regrettable trendy hairstyles and teen pregnancy would not exist.

Give a teen a chance to change…and they will.  Whether it’s for the better…or for the worse.  I’ve heard time and time again from parents…

“I don’t like who my child hangs out with.”

No?  Then why do you let them?

“I don’t like how my child dresses!”

No?  Then why do you let them?

I understand demographics.  I understand job locations, financial restrictions and that not everyone’s child can be as blessed as Kendra and travel the world experiencing all walks of life.  Not all kids are going to be able to pick up and move from a bad neighborhood or leave behind a lifestyle they’ve known their entire life.

But sometimes…things are more in control than we believe.  Sometimes, a move thirty minutes down the road to a new house can make or break a child’s entire future.  A move, a school change, a hobby…anything to redirect the child’s mind from the negative behavior long enough for them to adapt to the new environment.

 Sometimes spending Saturday night with your son rowing a boat across a lake will keep him from lying down with a girl at a party that night and creating a baby he can’t afford to raise.  Sometimes taking your daughter to the mall yourself may keep her from walking around with that bad influence she’s been hanging with.

Sometimes it’s as simple as time spent.

If we plop our children down in the muck and expect them to surface on their own, we are bound to be disappointed.   But throw them a rope and stand their cheering…and more often than not, our children will adapt to our expectations and meet us at the top of the pile.

Alaska Log Furniture

For more than twenty years I wanted to know how to make log furniture…I’m talking cut the tree down, pack it out of the woods, custom, from scratch kinda log furniture. Not the neatly perfected pieces you find in most furniture stores. I’m talking backwoods…Alaska style.


So last summer I did it. Now, mind you, I have a long history of setting a goal, completing said goal, loving the goal…and then never doing it again. But at least I got some decent furniture out of the deal. Not to mention some crazy expensive tools.


The project started with a log table. Seemed easy enough. So I worked late in to the night and came up with this…


Only problem is, I hate the “manufactured” top. The next one is going to be made from raw slats and have some kind of art…probably woodburning…in the top. Next time…

The second project was this end table…equally as plain looking as the coffee table, but not bad for a beginner. Both are still in my living room until I get time to create some new pieces…then these will be up for grabs to the nearest friend/relative who wants kiss up and claim they like them. 😉

(ignore the green carpet, came with the house,was my nemesis and is gone!)


Bored with the tables, I begin to visualize a bench. It had to be something unique, something fun, something Alaskan. Below is some things I came up with. Mind you, same stinkin’ manufactured board for the back, but at least I spiced them up with some woodburning. The next pieces will be completely from scratch…stuff I drag out of the woods, like the logs are. But for now…(there goes that “some day” again.)


The projects start with a pile of logs.  Sometimes, if my kids are desperate, I can pay them to peel them. Or if my son, Billy, feels like being industrious, I can get him to peel them with my chain saw attachment.  Otherwise, (usually) I am on my own.  Backbreaking work, by the way.


Then I begin to measure and cut them into lengths, sometimes re-cutting over and over until I have to start all over.  I then form the ends with a nifty router attachment that “tenions” the ends.  I use a wood boring bit and drill press to create the matching holes, and voila, it all goes together like this.


Then, I sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand.  You get the picture, right?  See in the picture below the difference between the rough cut slat, and the two I’ve sanded. They come out so beautiful…but did I mention I have to sand?


Below are some of the things I’ve ‘finished’. I use that term lightly since I’m very critical of my own work and don’t consider something ‘finished’ until I approve of it fully.  These are still works in progress…and progress…and progress.  There are no nails in these pieces, they are held together by wood glue only…except screws holding the back on…which I’m trying to solve.







(ignore the giant mess on the bed…I’m not gonna lie to ya, it’s always there…but let’s pretend it’s not.)





These are my completed pieces so far.  This winter, when it’s far too cold and dark to do anything else, I’ll likely create some more pieces to sit around the house collecting dust.  Because honestly?  Though I may complain loudly about the hard work the entire time, I LOVE the feel of a finished piece. 

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

 

Four years ago…don’t be fooled by that cherubic face!

Anthony got a citation at school today.  He walked in the door and without hesitation explained to me why it wasn’t his fault and the teacher was wrong. She always is. I’m surprised she still has a job with all the times she’s wrongly disciplined my son whilst he, an innocent angel of youth, patiently puts up with her shortcomings as a human being.

He’s so tolerant…he’s so accepting…he’s so Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Yes, the Anthony we all know and love is brilliant, sweet, hilarious and charismatic. He is also diagnosed Reactive Attachment Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder as well as is a victim of child abuse and neglect to such an extent as most of us cannot imagine.  He has survived the kinds of things we read about in the paper…and wish we hadn’t read.

Children who are early childhood victims of abuse and neglect often develop a lack of trust in their surroundings. After all, they cry and nobody answers, or the answer is scary.  They need food, it’s not there.  They need nurture and none is offered.  They learn very early that their needs are not going to be met and so those links inside the brain that would normally connect need with satisfaction simply do not develop. And as they move into their toddler years and those needs continue to not be met, the connections may actually never develop.  By three years old, say the experts, it may be too late.  Even if they have wonderful families in their later childhood years and move into adulthood with healthy surroundings…they sometimes never regain those lost phases of basic trust development.  Their brains simply lack the capacity to trust, to connect, to love.

And trust, as most of us know, is pivotal in positive and healthy relationships.  Trust, especially subconscious trust, plays a role in every single aspect of our lives, whether we realize it or not.

So when Anthony came to me with a citation and tells me all the reasons it’s not his fault, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.  I was, however, surprised when the teacher told me the citation was for being argumentative and talking too much and that he’d not thrown a chair, knocked over a desk, threatened anyone or cussed.   Because not so long ago, the calls were a whole lot different. Not so long ago, we wondered if he’d ever be okay.

We wondered…if he was salvageable.

Four years ago he came to us with a chip on his shoulder and a view of the world consistent with trauma and neglect.  He was angry.  He was volatile.  He was damaged in every possible way and it showed in his every action.  He was, without a doubt, the most difficult and challenging child I’d ever had before or since.

And so the work began.

The first step in ‘fixing’ Anthony, if he was to be fixed, was to create a trusting relationship between him and someone else. Lucky me, I was the obvious choice.

Anthony went off to first grade just two months after his arrival and we began to see behaviors develop in the classroom that were nearly unmanageable.  He would crawl under tables and not come out. He screamed, yelled, cussed, argued, threw chairs and basically rebelled against all forms of authority.  Because remember, in his world, authority figures had destroyed his life.  Authority figures had failed him in every way imaginable and then removed him from his family, who though they abused him horribly, he loved them ferociously.

Authority figures had pretty much removed all sense of control over his own life…and so he sought control.  Over anything.  Over his environment and surroundings, if that was all he could manage.  Just something he could grasp on to and manipulate. Because if you can manipulate, you are not lost.  And Anthony, at times, must have felt completely lost.

And so when Anthony went to school…I went to school also.

I walked him to the classroom, helped him with his backpack, got him to his seat, pulled up my own tiny chair, and plopped myself down.  I rubbed his back, played with his hair, spoke soothingly in his ear as he settled in to work.  And for the first two hours of school, if I followed this routine, he would sometimes make it through the school day without a total meltdown.  Sometimes.

I would then return to school early, before the bell. Often, when I walked in, the secretary would just say, “The principal is down there with him…” and I’d nod my head and switch into intervention mode.  I’d enter the classroom and often find him curled in a corner, pulling his own hair or banging his head on the floor.  Anthony was barely able to function outside of my watchful eye.

This is a child who looked his principal right in the eye and, at seven years old, said, “It’s a free country and I don’t have to listen to you.”  And he probably had some statute ready to back up his claim.

And so first grade continued like this, with me at his side daily.  I volunteered in the school so I could be there, just in case.  Once the music teacher found me in the gym, decorating for a carnival.  He walked Anthony to me, one hand on each shoulder and simply said, “I can’t do it any more today.”  And then a teacher with undying patience, who loves my children, turned and walked from the room.  I took him home that day, half carrying him from the building as he screamed his hatred for me through the halls, in front of the office where the secretary was sweet enough to not look up, past strangers who entered the building and surely must have thought me a horrific mother, and out the door.  We went home and sat together, side by side, him pressed to my arm, and watched a movie together because sometimes discipline is not the answer.

Sometimes…he just needed my side.

After a while, as his attachment to me begin to develop into something somewhat healthy.  He began to behave normally as long as I was around.  But God forbid, I round the corner or leave the room.  I could literally stand on one side of the gym during P.E. and watch him begin to lose it… I’d walk towards him and as soon as he saw me coming, his behavior would change dramatically.  The closer I was, the more in control he became.

I was his safety net, said his therapist. I was his stronghold…his grasp on all that was good and okay in the world.  I was his salvation…the hand that reached into the tornado inside him and pulled him to safety.  Without me…and it could have been anyone who was simply ‘there’ for him…he feared he would spiral away into a realm in which he may never return. And he may have been right.

We moved into second grade and before the school year began, I’d made the decision to homeschool Anthony while the other kids went off to school.  It was a way for us to bond.  It was a chance for us to spend time together.  It was a way for me to not spend the next nine months in the school building, plastered to the boy.

And it worked.  For nine weeks we were together at home, studying.  I found, in those weeks, that my son was brilliant.  His thought processes were unfathomably deep.  He shared with me his history and began to relate the abuse from which he’d come…and survived.  He began to trust someone for the first time in his life…to truly feel like he could rely on another.

And then the good state of Alaska Office of Children’s Services informed us it was illegal to homeschool a foster child.  And so he went back to school.  And I stayed home. I just couldn’t be there every day anymore. I needed to devote some time to me. Some time to the other children.

Three weeks later Anthony saw his birth family for the first time in seven months and following that one hour visit on New Years Eve, 2008, he began a spiral that ended with him stabbing another child with a pencil, terrifying the other second grade students to the point that he was not allowed back into school without a “shadow” or personal attendant who’s goal was to keep him, and the other students, safe.

Thankfully, that plummet initiated a recommendation by his therapist that he no longer have contact with his birth parents.  That was the last time he saw them.  And he’s been on the mend ever since.

And so third and fourth grade passed with only a few serious incidences.  Only once did the principal have to chase him into the parking lot.  Only once did I find him curled in the coatrack hitting himself in the head.  And only once did the bus driver have to turn around and bring him back to the school, just five minutes into the route.

Progress, I say, is what you make of it.

Four years from his arrival into our lives at the age of six, we’ve reached a point with this child that he is a joy…nay, an absolute wonder, to be around.  He still lights up when I enter a room and requires continual hugs.  He still gets into trouble at school.  He still argues continually, and probably always will.  He sometimes, though rarely, loses his temper.  But he’s learned how to transfer that need to control others to his own actions and…to some extent…he’s learned to control himself.

And he did it not because of the therapists, myself, teachers and aids who tried everything we knew how to ‘fix’ him…but rather he did it in spite of our flailing efforts.  He did it, on his own.

Honestly…there was a time when I didn’t think that possible.  There was a time when his first grade teacher said to me, “Keri, I don’t know how you take him home at night,” and I wondered the same thing.  There were discussions as to whether we would adopt him or not.  There were times when we thought it wasn’t a matter of “if” he went to jail, but how soon it would be.

And now…the unimaginable has happened.  He got a citation at school…for talking out of turn.  He got a citation at school, for not making good use of his time and doing what he does best…arguing.  And though I should have been upset with him. I should have been angry that just two weeks into the school year he has already gotten a notice sent home… and I did give him a talking to…

All I could think was, “Damn….that’s AWESOME!”


Why Off-Grid?

We turn the handle, water flows from the faucet.  We flip a switch and a light goes on or off. We flush a toilet, crank the thermostat, open the fridge…and voila, magic happens.

And then we all get three days off and we spend it sitting around a campfire, looking up at the stars, listening to nothing…and ahhhh…it’s perfect.

And we wonder why we ever have to go home.

And yet, when I tell people we plan to live off the power grid on a semi-remote piece of land, we’ve often been asked, “Why on earth would you want to do that?”

 And I reply, “Why would I NOT?”

For those of you wondering what we are up to…here’s the plan…without getting into the details of the work, which I’ll save for another post…or six.

This summer we found the piece of land we’ve been searching twenty years for.  We sold our recreational cabin in the mountains to obtain the cash and signed on the line.  Forty acres of wooded property, on the road system, with a view and useable trees…a dream come true.

We bought a band sawmill, fueled up the chain saw, bought work gloves for all the kids, and went to work.  Again, no details here on what we’ve been doing…just a breakdown of the plan.

Our goal for the past five years or so has been to become debt free.  Four years ago we paid off all credit cards and tore them up. Yes, tore them up.  We didn’t “keep one for emergencies”.  We tore them up and canceled the accounts. We didn’t “Keep one for credit building”.  We don’t worry about building our credit rating because we never plan to use credit again…so who cares what our rating is? No credit for us.  Ever.  Period.

Our one remaining bank debt is our mortgage.  And with a family of nine, you can bet we have a big house with a sizeable mortgage.  And utility bills that nearly match the house payment.  All in all, about $2,500 per month goes out just to live in our big comfy home.  Just to stay dry and warm.

But I figure I can stay dry and warm for a whole lot less money if I’m willing to push up the shirt sleeves once in a while and the kids are willing to pitch a tent in the yard for the summer.  Just kidding.  Sorta.

So back to the plan.

We are building a cabin.  Not a big cabin.  A 20 x 24 with bunks along the wall, loft above for mom and dad, cabin.  (Did I mention we have seven children?)We’re milling our own lumber from the logs from our own land.  We cut, limb, drag (thanks to dad for the use of his dozer), cut to length, lift onto the sawmill, create useable pieces of wood, and stack them for building our new home.

We will have a generator for power connected to a large battery pack and eventually to solar and wind.  We will have a well for water and septic for…well, for flushing…and our home will run much like everyone else’s, except we will create our own energy and be completely self-sufficient.  Eventually.  In the end we hope to use the generator only as back up and have no fuel bill, no electric bill, no utility bill of any kind and no house payment.

Let me repeat.  No mortgage. No utility bills.  No debt.  Sound good?  I think so too.

We have about six weeks until the snow falls and doesn’t stop until May.  We hope to have our cabin dried in…that means framed and out of the weather but not finished inside…in time for the snow.  We’ve milled about half our lumber at this point.  And on Friday, Dan leaves for his two week shift at work.  Can you say panic? When he comes home we’ll have just about three weeks before our world freezes until spring.

Our hope is that in the spring we’ll be ready to put our current home for sale and move into the small cabin for the summer while we start building the actual house.  And by “actual house”, I mean one where we can’t hear each other snore from the next bunk over and have more than one bathroom.  We have the spot picked out on the peak of the sloping hill where we’ll build an efficient, beautiful home…and someday hope to look down on our little cabin and say, “Remember that summer we lived in the cabin?  Wasn’t that fun?”

But in reality, we’ll probably live in that tiny cabin with all these kids for so long that the kids will grow up and we no longer need a big house…and that’s okay too.  Because we’ll be doing it on our own, as a family, and ours will be a debt free home build of pure determination and grit from the land on which it sits.  It will be a legacy to hand to our children.  An example of the fruits of hard work and a testament to what a family can accomplish with a little sacrifice and hands that aren’t afraid to get dirty.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 09/04/11

This week in my life I…

Was thankful for lots of nice milling trees…
Was thankful that DAN had to limb this one, and not me…
Realized that logging is a painful job…

Thought, if only we had 50 logs like this…our cabin would be done…
Got back into the swing of packing school lunches…
Wore out my kids…
Enjoyed Anthony’s late night drawing expos…
Wondered who is going to put all those bikes back together…
Decided to put the cabin in this grassy field…
Improved on my bread recipe by accidentally putting in twice as much butter…mmmmm…
And had the boys dig an outhouse hole…

Me: You can be done now or finish it up and feel the satisfaction of finishing the job.

Anthony: I think I can be satisfied knowing I finished 3/4 of a good job.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 08/21/11

This Week In My Life I….

Watched the Kenai Peninsula Fair Racing Pigs in action…
Had the most amazing food at the AKSupper Club in Ninilchik…(highly recommended)
Seriously…phenomenal food. Chef Paul Warner…amazing…
Made some new friends…
Saw oysters for the first time in my sheltered life…
Ate a raw oyster right from the shell…did I mention it was raw?
Saw the most glasses I’ve ever seen on any one table…
Was treated to a private performance by singer/songwriter Jules Larson and her counterpart, Jeff
And then got to see them live at the Kenai Peninsula Fair..what a treat!

Yardwork…Backwoods Style

We took possession of our 40 acres off-grid this week and as is our style…dug right in.  With no time to waste before winter and Dan working half his life away from home, we have about four weeks of actual time on the land before we have to start to buckle down for winter.

Our goal for this year is to attempt to get a functioning cabin up before we’re working in the snow and ice…like last time we put on a roof.  There’s nothing fun about roofing in freezing rain. So without hesitation, the work began.

We marked the road with pretty pink ribbons, plowed through with the dozer, and roughed in our driveway.  We don’t even want to talk about what it’s going to cost to gravel it…that is, if we don’t find gravel on our land. So far,  nothing.

Dan may be the only ‘treehugger’ oilfield worker in Alaska…he has a terrible time making himself take out perfectly good trees.  I agree…but if I have to choose between that view of Illiamna and Redoubt volcanoes versus scraggly black spruce…the tree is going to be firewood every time. So we pushed. And cut. And pushed…until our view began to appear before us and our house spot started to take shape.

Once the trees were over and the heavily covered ground was even more scraggly with logs and branches, the real work began. The kids chipped in, the dozer kept on pushing, and the chainsaw worked overtime. Me?  I took pictures…

 

Today the rain gave us a break and we were really able to get some work done.  We cleared most of the firewood from the house site where we’d been cutting it for days.  The kids piled it into the fourwheeler trailer and stacked it for winter.  We pulled logs with the dozer, piled branches for a winter bon fire, and lined the straightest logs next to our new saw mill for turning into lumber later.

We prepared for the cold by building a fire pit from rocks we ‘acquired’ down the road…

And then we played a bit…

And then…the kids…and dad…took a little siesta. Because hard work deserves a little rest once in a while…and kids who know how to put in a full days work have earned some time off!

 

Sixteen And Pregnant – Part Two

 

Part One Here

I lay on top of the pale green sheets on the eighth floor of John C. Lincoln Memorial Hospital and stared out at the night.  It was August of 1988 and the thunder raging outside the fourth floor window seemed a warning of things to come.  Bolts of fire lit up the black sky with great crackling power, like the fiery pain shooting through my insides as the child trapped within fought to get out.

It was three weeks since my due date had come and gone.  Three weeks of carrying my heavy load, both figuratively and literally, longer than I’d planned.  I’d tried everything for those twenty-one days from hot, spicy food to hot, spicy sex and nothing had worked.  All the doctor recommended walking; the high impact speed bumps in the parking lot of my apartment building; even the six hours spent exploring an antique mall had done nothing.  Finally, in the wee hours of Saturday morning on August 27th, the pressure began to pulse in to tight pains spaced every three minutes.  And it had begun.

I turned on my side and stared out at the window, counting the seconds from lightning to thunder and wondered if God would get me back this way. Perhaps he’d strike me down for all my wrongs and if he was going to do it, I wished he’d hurry because the pain was excruciating.  A woman in the next room screamed every few minutes and I wondered if she too was wishing she’d swung into the 7-11 for a condom, one fateful night nine months back.

Every three minutes…every one hundred eighty seconds, give or take…every cell of my body wrenched in pain as my lower back and stomach clenched together, trying to expel the invader inside.  I’d started out laboring at three minutes apart and now, about twelve hours later, my body had barely begun to progress.  It was Saturday night. And things were still happening three minutes apart.

We’d come into the hospital that evening after a competative game of Monopoly during which I paused between rolls of the dice to breathe through the pain. We broke all the rules and stopped for take-out Chinese food on the way because I knew that upon arrival, it would be nothing but ice chips for me.  A greasy eggroll seemed like a smart move at the time…maybe not so much a few hours later.  My mother had advised against it from the back seat, but clearly, I had not recently listened to my mother.

It was daylight again when the doctor pushed a hook inside me and broke my water.  Tepid fluid ran from my body and the doctor, in all his professional wisdom, said, “Uh oh.”

My water was green, he said.  And because I was sixteen I thought that sounded about right.  What other color would it be? But I was wrong. The baby was under stress, he told me.  Stress…? I wondered.  What did he think I was under?

Thirty hours in and my labor pains had continued…every three minutes.  About six hundred contractions.  But who’s counting.

Thirty-two hours.  Thirty-three.  Thirty-four hours from the first sign of labor, I felt the urge to push. And I did.

I watched the ceiling tiles disappear behind me as my bed was wheeled down the hall, into an elevator, and down another long hall into the delivery room.  My mother and my husband of two months came along and I wondered, as we went, who looked more pathetic.  The sixteen year old child about to give birth…the scared little boy trying to play man next to her…or the disapproving young woman watching from the side as she transformed into a grandmother overnight.

And then…I stopped caring.

For two hours, I pushed, my strength wilting with each un-progressive contraction as I struggled to expel what I would find out was a fifteen inch head from my narrow body.  No pain medications were allowed, they said.  It might hurt the baby.  Screw the baby, I thought aloud.  But nobody listened.

Ice chips melted lazily against my tongue, barely penetrating the thirst from which I suffered.  With each contraction I rolled forward and pushed with everything I had.  My body, not yet that of a woman, rebelled against the expulsion.  It stretched.  It contorted.  It cried out.  Until finally, thirty six hours into the ordeal, a child was born into the world.  A child…born to a child.

Thick black hair covered her head. Wide green eyes looked up at me from her wrinkled face.  Her head, smashed and distorted from so long in the birth canal, made her lopsided. They held her to me, still warm and covered in my body.

She was beautiful. She was mine. I held her close. And I said all the right things. But inside…I was screaming. Inside my child’s mind I wanted nothing more than for it to all just go away.

The nurses pressed her to my breast and I turned.  I rolled onto my side.

And I told them to leave me alone.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 07/31/11

This week in my life I….

Staked out my home site where we will begin to build our new home…
Wished I could see this boat in it’s prime…
Visited Homer Harbor…
Saw a mama eagle and her baby (right)
Watched my kids work together…
Taught Robin to love the weed whacker…and to wear pants next time!

Resurrection Trail — aka Trail Of Terror

 Written summer, 2010…warning…this piece is long…but worth the read (or at least look at the photographs of true Alaska wilderness.)

We were eighteen steps down the trail when Anthony announced he had to go to the bathroom. And not the easy one. Blood pressure rising so early in the day, Dan unclipped the boys backpack and sent him back to the parking lot outhouse. With thirty-one miles left to go, it was not a good sign.

Resurrection Trail runs between Cooper Landing, Alaska and Hope, Alaska with a separate trail that intersects it via Devils Pass, a ten mile climb to the 2600 foot summit. We began our 2010 trek in Hope because the Cooper Landing side is mostly uphill for the first eight miles. In 2005, we nearly died…or at least wanted too…by the time we reached the first cabin on the south end. Hope seemed like the better option for that reason and besides, Hope sounds optimistic.

We planned for months. Spent thousands, literally, on new backpacking gear designed specifically for lessening the load. If there was a lighter, smaller—or just simply cooler option—we bought it. Intent on being outdoorsy, but not really having the strength, agility or youth to handle it, we figured the less weight we carried, the better our chances of survival.  We’d planned meals for six and a the last minute Robin injured her leg and was unable to come so though we’d narrowed down our supplies, we lacked her brute strength in hefting along some of the load.  Destini hadn’t come either, but she’d have been useless anyway…more of a hindrance since her idea of physical work is clicking the send button on her cell phone. 😉

While waiting for Anthony’s return we looked at the trail in front of us with awe, eager to prove to ourselves we could do it. Mentally going over the contents of my pack I shifted the weight on my shoulders, wondering about the necessity of everything inside. Yes, I decided, I needed every single thing I carried. Nothing could be eliminated.

“Did you bring the first aid kit?” asked Dan.

“Of course,” I rolled my eyes, perturbed at the question as if I hadn’t just spent half a year planning the outing. The nerve…

“Toilet paper?”

I tried not to be irritated with the questions.  He was, after all, relying on me to keep us alive for four days in the wilderness.

“Yes, I brought a roll of toilet paper. It’s in my pack.”

“One roll?”

“We’re staying at cabins…this is just trail paper. It’s plenty.”

He raised one eyebrow, no doubt considering the repercussions of being wrong on this one.

“Trust me,” I assured him. He did.

Once Anthony had done his business and we were back on our way, we followed the well groomed trail along the edge of the rushing Resurrection River for the first few miles. Wide enough for a four-wheeler, or perhaps a small car, we wondered why we hadn’t just driven this far, but eventually the trail narrowed and became a winding dirt path through the thick overgrowth of Alaska wild.

Four miles in I began to feel it: the gnawing, burning sensation on the balls of my feet, the tips of three toes and the left side of one heel. I tightened my shoelace, adjusted my walk to alleviate the pressure on the sore spots; played favorites with my feet. Some would call it limping.

Five months prior, in the depths of winter, I’d gone online to rent our cabins for the trip. I was smarter than most, planning so early in the year. I’d get the best cabins; have my choice of which week to go. Not so. They were booked. With no less than three hours of linear calculations and quadratic equations I was able to finagle three nights in a row of cabins, not necessarily in the right order or equidistance apart. Grand. The result was that the first day required nearly twelve miles on the trail. No problem. If only my feet worked I’d be fine.

By mile six I began to realize there was a serious problem. Not only were both my feet boiling inside my shoes in a flaming, puffy, blistering disaster, my left butt cheek had begun to cramp. Dan had slung Anthony’s pack over his shoulder a mile back and the boy was running free while the old man did above and beyond dad-duty. Billy trucked ahead as if he’d been working out every day all year-which he had- and Mya, never to be outdone, followed closely behind him. We looked like the model hiking family if you ignored my disheveled gait and the pained look on Dan’s face as he carried an extra thirteen pounds up the side of a cliff claiming to be a trail.

Three potty stops in Mya and I decided to re-think the amount of squares we were using. Drip-dry became more appealing than usual as the diameter of the roll decreased with each sip off our water bottles.

At mile seven we came across the first cabin at Caribou Creek. We traipsed by begrudgingly, wishing we’d booked earlier, like in 1997 perhaps, so we could have been at destination. But alas, our reserved spot was still another five miles away. Had there not been at least ten tents staked out around the cabin as if on sentry duty, we may have crashed the place. But hikers are a rigid group and likely we wouldn’t have been welcome in their wagon train so we continued on.

Our arrival at the sign for our cabin, mile twelve, was welcome to all. Until we realized we weren’t there yet. It’s a cruel joke, really, to put the cabin a quarter mile off the trail, uphill. Both ways. Three miles back I’d removed my boots to discover silver dollar sized blisters on the balls of both feet, just below the toes. I’d slipped on my water shoes for a more flexible fit, hoping to alleviate some of the torture, and hobbled the rest of the way. Twelve miles down, nineteen to go. My immediate future did not look bright.

However, once I hobbled up the path and finally reached the cabin itself I was thrilled with the look of the newly remodeled Fox Creek Cabin.  Twenty-five years ago when I was last there it was little more than a shack, now it rivals a Tahoe ski chalet…and for only thirty-five bucks a night!

Upon arrival the kids claimed their bunks and scattered there stuff.  Billy brought me a container of water for feet soaking and I took back half of the bad things I’ve said about him.

The outhouse revealed our worst fear. Our cabin package was not all inclusive after all and our single roll instantly became my most guarded possession.

Day two was three miles.  Three miles.  Ahhhhh….only three miles.  I can walk three miles on my hands.  Or at least I wished I could have after the first mile on the gnarled, swollen stumps that used to be my feet.  Moss was our new friend trailside and the roll stayed closely guarded in the front of my pack for those emergency situations when a clump of moss just wouldn’t do the trick.

The second cabin we rented, East Creek Cabin, still in it’s original form, was not as fancy as the new and improved version but lent much to the ambiance of the rugged outdoors.   As I practically crawled up the trail head to the cabin door and collapsed on the porch in a heap of antiquity and anguish, we were surprised to find a couple of forest service workers doing cleanup inside.  An empty wine bottle, a ziplock of rice, numerous smash cans were pulled from the cabin where previous campers had overestimated their pack weight and decided to leave things behind.  I wondered how these litterers believed their garbage would disappear and had they not noticed the cleanliness of the cabin on their arrival?  Or did they simply not care.

I found it difficult to digest the idea that someone could spend two days getting to this cabin and not have appreciated the serenity of the spotless forest around them.  These are the same people who don’t care where the water comes from in their faucet, only that it is there.

The forestry workers, two women and a man, stopped to chat, shared their equal disgust with the garbage and let the kids feel the extra weight of the garbage bag they would be hauling back to the highway.  At the pained look on my face, one of the women dug through her pack and pulled out a full roll of athletic tape, prodded at the bottom of my bare feet, winced at the fact that I’d brought no tape myself, and left me with the roll.  I would have kissed her had I been able to move and had she not just been touching my sweaty feet.

The outhouse, once again, offered no amenities.

That night we concentrated on emptying some weight from our packs.  We hogged down the s’more fixings I’d toted along and chose the heaviest of the dehydrated foods for our meals.  I taped my feet and the kids played cards.  We swapped horror stories of our three mile day and regarded our water filter system with awe as we had three gallons of clean cold water in just minutes.  Ah the high priced gadgets were beginning to pay off.  With our Jet Boil cooking system we were able to boil our water in just over two minutes and our Mountain House meal pouches were hot and ready to eat in ten.  The shocker was, they tasted good!  Now granted, when tired and hungry, most anything becomes edible, but I’d have eaten these things at home.

Sometimes even the mile markers get tired.

Day three of the saga left us with less than half a roll of our now golden t.p.  My feet had discovered the miracle of athletic tape and were joyously jaunting at a normal pace.  Hallelujah.  On this day we knew we were going to be in for some work because we were to travel about 900 feet in elevation in seven miles.  Not too bad, but we also knew that a good portion of that would be above tree line and we may encounter snow.  What we didn’t count were remnants of avalanche and treacherous creek crossings.

The first mile or two after leaving East Creek Cabin were similar to a rock climbing expedition up Mt. Everest but once we’d reached the top and could breathe again, we were glad we’d made the trek.  The trees began to thin and everything opened up into a span of mountainous horizon so wide we could practically see into tomorrow.  As we rose into the valley the temperature dropped without the protection of the trees and the wind picked up.  Sprinkles fell, ears got cold,and it was totally worth it.

Walking along a steep embankment, traversing melting avalanches, one right after the other, one could imagine the danger of winter travel through these mountain passes and see just how treacherous snow machining can be in these deep valleys surrounded by wet, heavy snow that pummels down the mountain side like a freight train, taking out everything in it’s path.

But the expanse of beauty made it easy to see the draw, the appeal to adventurers who disregarded the danger and plunged forward into the depths of the Alaskan wild.

We topped Resurrection Pass Summit at 2600 feet and posed for a photo where the Less the Moose was totally a poser in front of the elevation sign.  He spent the whole trip on my backpack and then gloated when he reached the summit as if he’d packed us all up there himself.  But we humored him with a shot…I mean photo…and stuffed him back in his place.

Shortly after the sign we were alerted by the kids to an animal across the valley.  We squinted, stared and wondered until I broke out the camera and zeroed in on the varmint.  What we discovered were a large family of ROUS’s (Rodent’s of Unusual Size) living in giant holes all over the place.   What we later discovered were Marmots, and not the famous giant Fire Swamp creatures from the Princess Bride, were everywhere.

After scaring ourselves half to death sneaking up on a couple of these “little” guys and discovering they have a nasty streak, we decided it best to leave the wildlife in tact, as well as our throats.  But that didn’t stop Anthony who veered from the trail often, tracking them down like the Crocodile Hunter, fearless and crazed for the hunt.

We arrived at the cabin at Devils Pass eager to check the outhouse and were again disappointed to find no essentials, as our measly roll was depleted to nearly nothing and the tribe was beginning to hoard each square with a viscousness the Donner Pass party must have felt somewhere near the end.  The Devils Pass was well above tree line and there was no wood to be found, which worked out, since there was no wood stove.  Some bring in fuel in the winter months on snow machine so we were fortunate some fuel had been left behind.  Though we never fully got the stove to burn efficiently, we were able to keep some flame going long enough to dry our shoes and pant legs that had become soaked in some of the snow crossings.

I want to live right there, in that cabin, with that setting.  Alone.

Our last night sleeping along the trail was nice.  We ate as much food as we could stomach, hoping to lighten the load to almost nothing.  With the heater going until we slept we were cozy and happy.  Two days prior we’d lost cell phone service, therefore, our clocks didn’t work.  I’ve never in my life gone without time for more than a few hours.  Sensing the daylight, the feel of the air and the heaviness of my eyelids was new territory, but I liked the sense of freedom in moving according to our bodies clock and not what the digital numbers of civilization tell us we must.

In the wee unknown hour of the morning, as the sun cast it’s brilliance barely across the tops of the mountains on the far side of the valley, I woke to the sound of drip, drip, drip.  I’ll not go further…for the sake of confidentiality.  But suffice it to say, in the future all possible bed wetters sleep on the bottom bunks and not above Dan and I.  Especially not Dan.  Thank God it was our last night.  Let’s move on…

With such an early and abrupt awakening we decided to get right on the trail.  We had ten miles ahead of us and would need all day to do it in as we knew the trail was called Devil’s Pass for a reason.   Right away I found a paw shaped rock formation on the trail and it was not a good precedent for what was to come. Anxious to get back to the truck, to a foot bath, to a fresh roll of Ultra Soft Charmain, we moved along quite quickly that morning.

Interesting rock formation…

An hour into the day it began to resemble the arctic and suddenly we were trudging through deep snow, across avalanche remnants so steep we had to press our feet in sideways to keep from sliding down.  Looking forward seemed eternal, impossible that we would reach the end of the valley before us and yet knowing that once we got there, we’d turn and find another valley just like it in our path.

Some of the steeper snow crossings were worrisome because if we’d slipped we’d have quite a rid to the bottom, one that would likely not end well…in the bottom of a partially thawed waterway or drop off into a gully.  We locked hands, carried kids packs, and once walked far out of our way, up the hill, to go around a snow drift too steep to cross.

Finally the snow thinned and green became thicker as we re-entered tree line.  With the warmer temperatures came a new challenge.  Creeks had formed down from the tips of the mountains where snow melt off had formed gully’s of gushing water.  There were no bridges, only well placed rocks some kind previous hiker had taken the time to lay out.  Again, we faced the danger of not only falling in, but the fact that we were on such steep terrain that had we fallen to the right, more often than not we would have been plummeting off a veritable cliff of rock and snow.

The above photos who the worst crossings.  Notice how the water carves the snow out, forming a waterfall behind the wall of snow on which we walked, then opening up again right below us.  We had no idea how thick the snow was we were walking upon, and no idea if it would open up and swallow us.  So we sent Billy first. 😉

Thankful to be done with the icy waterfall crossings and into thick brush we kept on the lookout for bears.  Anthony restarted the “count the giant trees” game he’d begun three days before, when we’d last seen any sizable trees.  He got to number twenty three but we’re pretty sure he missed about four hundred others.

With the end of the trail within range we were elated at the idea of any food besides things dehydrated to 1/56th it’s original size and weight; fresh clothes; and a hot shower.  Six squares were left, faintly wrapped around the coveted cardboard cylinder. I devised a plan to keep it all to myself, all maternal instincts nil and void as crisis mode set in. It was every man for himself and I was the one holding the golden egg.  With so little time left on the trail the younger people would survive…an old woman has certain requirements.

With a last spurt of energy and my feet on their last leg, literally, we thrilled like a kid on Christmas morning to finally see the parking lot in Cooper Landing.  The sound of cars flying by on the highway, the scent of an oil leak, the feel of solid pavement under our feet, all reminders of a world we’d left behind, had missed, and yet were almost sad to come back to.

What’s in the hatch????

We walked, single file, limping towards the truck where Dan would open the door with the Slim Jim he’d strapped under the bumper since where we live, no key is required.  (I know, SO backwoods…)

There, on the ground in the parking lot, was a full roll of unused toilet paper, drenched and uselessly smashed against harsh black pavement. I was too tired to take a picture. We all stared longingly as we slowly passed…vowing from here on out to be forever thankful for the simpler necessities of the civilized world.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 7/24/11

This week in my life I…..
Hung out on the river with my bff…
Dip netted some salmon…lots of salmon…
Explored the beach and wondered how boats get on land…
Wondered why clams are so attractive to so many…
Visited the boat launch during a wind storm…
Learned the small boy can do standing back tucks…
Wondered who had more fun with the visqueen slip-n-slide…
And then saw their little faces….
And knew the answer…
Proved how crazy Alaska boys are…
And wondered what these kids would be doing…anywhere else…
Saw a boat take on too much fish…and too much water…
Visited Billy at work…and haven’t seen him since…he’s making a living…
Caught a sun glare…that looks like a flower. 🙂

Sixteen And Pregnant- Part One

 

On July 7, 1988, I found myself traveling across Phoenix, Arizona in an un-air-conditioned 67 Gallaxy with red leather seats sticking to the backs of my thighs.  Windows rolled down, pony tail flying in the wind, I looked out at the city rolling by…so far from Alaska, so far from home…and wondered how I’d come to be there.

I laid one hand across my swollen middle, tugged at the sweaty white satin of my wedding dress as it clung to every curve in the 120 degree sun and tried to imagine a different dream.  One where I wasn’t about to marry in a courthouse, far from home, eight months pregnant and completely in denial. It was hard to focus on the dream with the baby kicking inside my womb and Metallica screaming on the radio station as the would-be father sung along as he drove.  I was sixteen years old.

He swung the car into the parking lot of the Maricopa County Courthouse and switched off the 390 big block.  It was a hot car, in every sense, and probably the only thing we had going for us that day.  I opened the car door, put my flip flops on the steaming black pavement and waddled out the door, slamming it behind me.  He gallantly held out his hand and we walked towards the building where we would be determined husband and wife.  He was eighteen years old.

When we arrived inside, he went to the little window to fill out paperwork while I made my way to a grouping of chairs in the waiting area.  I tugged the white satin away from my round figure and looked down to realize that in 120 degrees, white satin coated with sweat becomes almost completely transparent.  Nice.  So I plopped my practically naked, eight month pregnant form onto a hard plastic chair next to an elderly man.

The man looked me over, smiled politely and said, “Are you getting married today?”

“Yes,” I smiled shyly.

“You look lovely.”

God bless him…I almost believed his smiling sincerity until I went to tug my pony tail back into place and found it had slid halfway out down my head and hung, limp and wet, down my back.  Yes…I was a beauty, for sure.  I was eight months pregnant, sweaty, basically naked, too young to see an R-rated movie and about to be married.  I was, no doubt, quite a site.

They called our name and we went into a chamber where the judge looked over his glasses at me, then at him.  Do you have any witnesses, he wanted to know.  We did not.

A few minutes later two small round Hispanic women from the front office entered and stood on either side of us.  Our groomsman…and maid of honor.

Approximately fifty-eight seconds later, I was hitched.  The two sweet women hugged me, said somethin I couldn’t understand, signed and stamped our certificate and yelled out, “NEXT” as we were ushered out the door.

We retraced our steps, through the lobby past the sweet old man who again smiled as I past, no doubt wondering if we’d even make it out the door before we divorced, and back through the thick wall of heat just outside the tall glass doors.

As we pulled from the parking lot, onto the busy street a truck pulled in front of us, the back full of tan, young girls in bikini tops and shorts.  As I tugged my maternity underwear from my skin and felt my baby move with force, he honked his horn, smiled and waved at the girls in the truck.

And so began the spiral of my first marriage…

Part Two

On The Kenai

Ignore the cheesy grin…I’m much better behind the camera!                        

I’ve spent the last two days at the mouth of the Kenai River dip netting Sockey (Red) Salmon from a boat.  It’s my version of “I’m broke so I gotta get food somewhere” and besides, I LOVE to dip net.  If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about…let me fill you in.

Pretty empty out there today…I’ve seen it thick like flies.

In Alaska, we have a huge subsistence lifestyle.  Many, many people live off the land, hunt and grow their own food and sustain their families with their own two hands.  I know many places where people live like that…we hunted a great deal in Oregon…but in Alaska, it’s quite a commonly accepted way of family life.

Mya, by far, my strongest minion…  

For a few weeks every year, two of our local rivers here on the Kenai Peninsula are open to resident dip netting.  That means, if you are a resident of Alaska and you pick up a free subsistence permit…as well as your paid for fishing license…you are allowed a certain number of fish via net based on the size of your family.

Appropriate…  

My family is allowed 105 fish.  My permit practically had to have an addendum to include all the members of my family…see page two…but we got us all on there and we’re determined to fill that quota.

So we borrowed a boat from a friend since I blew up the motor in my boat (see Without A Paddle) last summer.  The first night my brother and I each took our twelve years olds.  The second  night, he and I took his wife and my buddy, Sandi…my accomplice.

You think we’re trouble in a boat…you should have seen us in Vegas…  

 Here’s what is supposed to happen. We put in at the docks at the Kenai River, go up river a bit, then idle down the motor and drift along the edge with our nets in the water.  The nets are huge and heavy.  We tie a rope off between the bow of the boat and our net handle for extra support in keeping it straight in the current.  Fish swim into the net, we twist upwards to keep them from swimming back out, and we pull the net into the boat.  We dump the fish out, and do it all over again.

Here’s what really happens:

Boat goes up river.  Squeeze between  a hundred other boats.  Everyone around us catches fish.  Smarty pants in boat three feet away catches their limit in thirty minutes.  We watch.  Fish swims into net.  Net holder doesn’t move fast enough.  Fish swims out.  Another fish finally swims in.  I grab net to help.  Fish flies out an whacks me in the mouth. Tail tastes gross.  I get slimed.

Double the tangles when both sides bring them in at once.  

No…really.  Nets tangle.  Fish jump all around the boat and avoid giant nets.  Net handles break.  And ‘dead’ fish unlatch cooler chests and leap back out.

The first night we got thirty-five fish in about two hours which is by all means, not a bad day on the water.  Especially since we had the children to work as little slave minions.  Tonight we left the water with about twenty-five, mostly because the sun went behind the clouds and our whiny nature got the best of us until my brother…the driver…had had enough and dumped us back on the dock.

Takes loner to clean and fillet than to catch!  

 The highlight…at least for me if not for the eye-rollers in my boat…was when a woman in a boat nearby yelled out, ‘HEY, aren’t you Backwoods Mom!  I LOVE your blog!!!”  How “me” that my first time being recognized by a stranger in public as BMOM, I’m wind blown and coated in fish slime.   It was, without a doubt, a moment to remember. And…I think I’ve made a new friend.

My little Eskimo digs in the trash for the eggs.  I made him wait until they are cooked.  

So, sixty giant fish, two seal sightings, one fin in mouth, a paparazzi moment, and no less than six three-stooges scenes later, we made it through dip netting season fairly unscathed…and next year, we’ll anxiously do it all again.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 7/17/11

This week in my life I….

Watched my billionth Ninilchik sunset…
Enjoyed Summer…
Went to the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer with friends…
Was thankful this toothy guy was dead…
Watched the tractor launch take up some boats…
Smoked a bunch of salmon…
Was glad I wasn’t THAT guy…
Found some beach treasures…again…
Told Sam I wanted to see the tractor get wet….so he did…
Watched how Ninilchik TEENS know how to work…
BOUGHT40 acres with THIS view…(this is my corner marker…!!)
Watched my kids freeze near to death…
Thought, “So this guy claims he’s Eskimo?  He’s freezing!”
Watched the kids have a serious water fight…
Knew that girls ALWAYS win against boys…
Saw another Eskimo be afraid of the cold…ahha.ha…
Saw Robins best Little Mermaid impression…
Saw what happens when little boys don’t have t.v…
And knew THAT wasn’t going to end well.

The Unfixable

He was fifteen when he came to me.  And even on the first day I knew he couldn’t stay. I knew it wasn’t the right fit… he was broken beyond repair and a danger to the other children. I could see it in his eyes…he was ruined. I know that sounds callous…but it’s the reality. He was a throw away…lost in a system that seemed determined to destroy the child he’d once been.

What’s his story, I asked the caseworker who dropped him off.  His story, said the man, is he’s been abused by every adult he’s ever come into contact with.  There was no child left…just a shell of a victim.

So I took him into my home with seven other kids and gave him a bed, some good food and a short glimpse of what a family looks like.  He settled in, smiled a lot, and was friendly enough.  The girls put tiny ponytails in his long curly hair, the boys played video games with him side by side, he jumped on the trampoline, ate cookies like he’d never had one, and…that’s all I really remember.  Sometimes, after they leave…I block them out.  It’s the only way.

I remember his brown eyes. I remember his crooked smile.  And I remember the moment he broke my heart.

We stood on the porch side by side, him taller than me by several inches, a shadow of the man he would become.  A man with no model of what a man should be.  A man with no footsteps to follow.  He stood at my arm as the caseworker walked up the drive.  He clutched his brown paper sack, everything he owned in the world crammed inside.

The worker stepped onto the porch and the boy turned to me.  I looked at him and no words came.

“I know I can’t stay,” he said quietly.  “But I wanted to.”

The worker took the bag from the boy and he turned to give me a hug.  I wrapped my arms around the lanky boy who’d shared our home for just four days and I began to cry.

He held me. And he comforted me.

“It’s okay,” he said.  “I’ve done this a lot.”

And then he left me there, standing alone in my shame.

Just Another Scenic Sunday 7/3/11

This week in my life I…watched Billy shock himself when he discovered he could do a standing back tuck…
Started a new wood project…
Accidentally created the lower 48 and Alaska…
Served a new kinda customer in Destini’s coffee shop drive thru…
Sold some fishies…
Created a fishy assembly line…reminded me of my cannery days…
Went to the week with some friends…
Witnessed my private little beach turn into Grand Central Station with the clamming tide…
Saw some creativity come out in the small boy…as he made paddle!