Sunday, April 30, 2017

Life after a breakup.

Photo by Pazely Mans
A lot has been happening since I last wrote...
Spring, for one.
But it's a different spring than I'm used to. On Facebook, one friend (who lives in a different part of the United States, not so close to Russia as I am) has posted pictures of their irises blooming. Another friend has had sunny yellow adventures (of the flowering kind) in Cali. I see macro shots of poppies, flowering dogwood trees, fields of daffodils. It doesn't stop. And I kinda want it to. Why? 
Because I'm jealous.

As exciting as it is to see the new world around me begin to transform before my eyes, nothing could have prepared me for breakup. (What sort of evil is this?!) According to an article entitled "Speak Alaskan" on the website alaska.org, "Breakup signals springtime in Alaska. It's the time of year when the frozen rivers break apart and flow again." (That doesn't sound so bad.) They go on to say: "In town, the snow melts, leaving enormous puddles, dirty cars, and generally quite a mess. It's not a great time of year to travel in the backcountry because the snowpack is gone but the ground hasn't dried out yet." 
They failed to mention the snow melting into the shape of giant frozen craters EVERYWHERE in the landscape, & that when you try to take your kids to school you may or may not be able to get out of your driveway, & if you do, you will most definitely bottom-out while driving through said craters, & then you will get STUCK in the craters right at the edge of the school parking lot, & all the other parents taking their kids to school will drive around you because you're kind of in the way, & your kids will be SO EMBARRASSED that they "could just die!", & you can't help but laugh to keep from crying, & you're just praying that somehow the rocking motion you're making inside your vehicle will do the trick to get you UNSTUCK because you're wearing pajamas, & you really don't want to get out of the car in all this ice-snow-chaos because the pajamas you're wearing are not your cute pajamas.
Yeah, they left out that part.

In my own definition, here is what breakup is: breakup: a noun & a verb & an adjective & probably other stuff too: //dirty snow that starts to melt. No, wait! It's gonna freeze a little now. Yeah, it's gonna freeze & melt & freeze & melt & then turn to muddy-mud-puddles-mixed-with-mud & then there will still be large chunks of ice in the road that'll mess you up & then you're like, "I think I broke my car, I heard a lot of scraping."//   //And the color brown.//   //And this sound: "bleeakjsjkf".//

THIS IS BREAKUP.
Photo by Pazely Mans

THIS IS BREAKUP.
Photo by Pazely Mans


THIS IS BREAKUP. OR MAYBE THAT'S POOP.
Photo by Pazely Mans


THIS IS BREAKUP.
Photo by Pazely Mans

Breakup is also where you find all those things you thought you lost all winter. As the snow melts in your yard, it carries your items ever-so-carefully to rest upon the soggy earth for you to find. That, & all the trash from your neighbors. (Man! Debris for daysssss!)


This kind of breakup is not unlike the dissolution of a relationship between two people: There is a giant hole where there once wasn't one. (Everywhere, holes.) It is a painful scenario to be involved in. (Heartache on many levels.) There is no color left in your world. (Depression hits.) It is drab & ugly. (Depression 2.0 hits.) The disintegration is imminent. (You can't stop it.) You can't believe how this could be happening to you. (Denial takes you to its secret dark place.)
You think you're fine one minute, & then you hit rock bottom. (I literally bottomed-out, people.) 
What if you get stuck in this situation again? (You avoid going out. You even consider homeschooling your children through breakup JUST so you don't have to drive in that mess.)

Technically, as I write this, the worst of the breakup is over. For the most part. I think? I don't know. I've never done this before! I'm guessing. But I have since regained my confidence & have re-entered the outside world with a renewed tenacity. I'm all over here with my new mud boots flippin' attitude like, "What? What now?! Come at me, breakup!" 
(I'm so giddy over the boots! I've never lived anywhere that necessitated wearing them, yet I have ALWAYS wanted a pair. Dreams really do come true. Also, I've realized that if I don't wear my big girl boots I'll ruin my cute shoes.)

The breakup means the snow is vanishing, which means the earth can breathe & flourish into a spring-like wonderland. And all the spiders hibernating their egg sacs in the snow can now be born & come live in our house. (SERIOUSLY! I'm so grossed out by all the spiders.) 

I'm anxious for color & life of the blooming variety. That part is all just going a bit more slowly than I'd like. I've been out searching for spring. And like I said before, it just looks different than I'm used to. 
It is...longer days of sunshine, which is an odd concept to get used to. But I've been soaking up as much sun as possible on the days when the light has been at its best. And a gorgeous daylight it can be. It holds the power to change moods. (We hung our blackout curtains just in time. Tonight, for instance, the sun sets at 10:06 PM. And we're still gaining more light every day! Isn't that cray-cray & fascinating?!)
 It is...the birds! I've been listening to them chittering & gossiping about all the things they have to catch up on since they last parted ways seasons ago.
It is...the ants redecorating their homes. 
It is...our wild bunny friend continuing to make his visits. 
It is...the squirrels playing chasing games on my roof. 

Photo by Pazely Mans
And I have spied green things— I've just had to squat on my hands & knees to find them, & then attach a macro lens to my camera to see them. And most of them are probably weeds.

A friend recently shared with me how she was listening to a podcast once about early childhood education. The teacher talking was from the midwest & had moved to rural Alaska to teach. She was so excited for the "spring" weather in Alaska that she asked the kiddos in her class to paint what reminded them of spring. They all painted brown. She was horrified—until she experienced the breakup.
I get it. I totally get it.
It's a messy cycle, this breakup business. 
But I have survived. 
I am a survivor.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Best. Day. Ever.

I went cross-country skiing.
Can't you tell?

I don't own any proper skiing attire except gloves. And a cute hat with a giant pom-pom. So, before my adventures in the snow, I went on the hunt for ANYTHING to keep me warm & dry. I found an ugly "old man", all-weather jacket *with holes in every single pocket* (but it fit!) at a thrift store. And that's about it. I didn't have any luck finding snow pants, so I wore layers instead: the Mr's thermals + jeans. 
Actually, I take that back. I DID find a pair of snow pants. They were the last pair for sale on a Walmart clearance rack. But the Mr. made me put them back.
He must have a thing against neon Hawaiian print.

After a quick stop at Beemun's in Soldotna for boots & ski rentals, we were on our way to the Tsalteshi Ski Trails.

Now, I must say that I have been downhill skiing a handful of times as a kid. I did not like it. Especially that one time I went down backwards & fell (& kept falling) & I couldn't get righted the proper way & I was just a heap of a mess of snot & snow & tears. And my dad going by overhead on the ski left yelling down advice to me wasn't helping, & then my Uncle came & saved me & I was done. Done with a capital D. Get these stupid skis off me with a capital G. Leave me alone with a capital L! Where's the hot Cocoa with a capital C? 

I also went snowboarding once as a teenager. Not a fan of participating in that sport either. I think it's the whole "downhill" thing. And then there's the equation of speed + tree = death. It's simple math, really.
But, cross-country skiing? As I got older, the idea of this intrigued me. I have been wanting to give it a go for several years.

So I was thrilled to be invited to an afternoon of cross-country skiing a few weeks ago. A whole big crew of us went. Mostly some of my new church family. I think it doesn't matter what adventure you go on—it's essentially about who you go with that makes the journey special. It's fun to have shared experiences. Because, instead of one account, the story can be told a dozen times, a dozen different ways. And re-living an event through narrative is one of the best parts. 

It was an absolutely gorgeous day. We seriously couldn't have picked a more beautiful time to do this! It was overcast, not too cold, & we had fresh snow. 
Although I did have proper gloves, my fingers were immediately beginning to get numb even before we started. I was worried & contemplating the fact that I might get frostbite & have to learn to play the piano with my toes. 
But other than that, I was strapped in, feeling anxiously excited & ready to go!

We skied both the Porcupine & the Wolverine trails, for a total of 2.9 miles. I think if I would have known we were going to be skiing for almost 3 miles, I would have had many hesitations. 
And possibly whined excessively.
Sometimes it's good to not know things, to do your research AFTER the fact. I can't convert meters to miles without an app anyway. So I was under the cover of blissful ignorance—and just focusing on getting blood-flow to my fingertips & trying to stay alive...

*screams*
Cross country skiing is not anything like I imagined. I pictured flat. Like, a completely horizontal landscape. Nope. There are hills. And as you can hear in this video, I'm not much a fan of hills. That's me on the right. Screaming. And then my friend, Destiny, comes in & joins the chorus. I think the whole forest could hear us. (Other skiers later attested to this truth.) Snow fell off trees as the sound of our screams reverberated throughout the trails. Birds resting on branches took immediate flight. 
**NOTE: I can't currently get the video to work on my blog, so click HERE to view it on Flickr. And, thanks, to my friend Christina for filming it. This 25-second video clip is one of the best gifts ever.**

Random fun fact: Twice, while I was skiing, an old man passed me. We were going uphill. *sigh* 

I admit that I was the slowpoke of the bunch. I eventually fell to the rear of our ranks. But I didn't mind. It was peaceful. Trees everywhere, all covered in snow. Trails winding through the woods. I even saw a bald eagle. And then... I saw a clump of fur hanging from a nearby branch. I froze. Crap. Some sort of wild animal had come this way. It could be anywhere! It could be watching me right this minute! But then I looked around & realized that there were little furry things hanging from all the branches. It musta been moss or something.

In the end, my screaming ski buddy, Destiny, joined me for the final leg. We both discovered that we {obviously} were slow, we aren't necessarily sporty folk &, though we may often lack skill, we do have a decent attitude about trying. 
Once, with Destiny by my side, I did a face-plant. (As seen in the first photo at the top of this post.) 
"This is too good not to capture," Destiny said, as she dug around in one of the pockets of her snow jacket for her phone. 
"I can't see my legs!" I yelled. "Where are my legs?!" 
Destiny snapped a photo. "Do I look cute?" I asked. (It's a thing I always say when someone takes my photo.) 
If I wasn't wet before, I was certainly wet now. And then I got the giggles. Could not stop laughing. 
Getting up on skis after a fall is one of the most awkward & difficult things ever. Especially with an audience. I couldn't do it. I was weak from skiing & screaming all day. But Destiny gave me some tough love & used what I think was her stern-ish voice. Mostly she was saying, "You can do it! You can do it!" But between her words I mostly read: "I am NOT getting down there to help you, Nikki. I can't. I won't. Do you understand? Because then we'll both be down in the snow, helpless & frozen, & that is NOT what is going to happen right now! So grab your ski poles, & push your body up off that ground, girlfriend! These woods are full of wild animals. And if you don't get up, the animals will eat you! I can't be a part of that, so I may just have to leave you behind & head to base camp & eat the potato chips I left in the car while the rest of us wait to see if you'll come out of this or not." 
With a giant grunt, I stood up.
Our legs were ready to be done skiing, the trail seemed to go on forever. Destiny had a mini panic sesh. And then it started to snow, big heavy flakes. "This is like a nightmare that never ends!!"
To add to the drama, we thought we might be lost. I had a quick pep talk with Destiny. "You can do it! You can do it!" But what I was really thinking about was if I would be able to fashion a sled of some sort from tree branches, along with Destiny's skis (she wouldn't be needing them anymore since I'd be pulling her on the sled). And then I was hoping that by the time the sled was built, that old man with the tremendous skill & speed I ran into earlier in the day would come by again, because then maybe he could pull me AND Destiny on the sled. That would be nice of him. 

Well, turns out I didn't have to build a sled. Moments later, we finally arrived at "base camp" (a.k.a "the parking lot where we started") where everyone was waiting for us—& HAD been waiting for a while. They had started to worry, too.

During my 2.9 mile ski trip, I fell a total of 5 times. And I didn't die. So I'd say it was a successful ski adventure. I won't tell you how many times Destiny fell. If the name of the game was "Let's See Who Falls the Least", let's just say: I won. 

As a happy little treat on the way home, we grabbed Odie's for lunch + donuts from The Moose is Loose for dessert. Unfortunately The Moose was out of regular maple bars. (My favorite.) Fortunately, their GIANT gingerbread-boy-shaped donuts were covered in the same maple icing.  I grabbed a couple to share with the fam back home.

The day ended with friends around a fire-pit, along with good eats & conversation. 

 Well before I arrived here in Alaska I decided that I want to do ALL THE THINGS. I want to experience everything there is to experience in this amazing world I now call my home. It's so fun that I now get to check something off my Alaska Adventure List.  

I want to go ice fishing, & regular fishing. I want to go four-wheeling & camping & hunting & ice skating. I want to learn how to gut a fish & fillet a fish. I want to learn how to smoke salmon & can salmon & make jerky. I want to make jelly from local wildflowers & hike local trails. I want to ride a dogsled, go bear watching. Wallow in mud pits, have campfires by the beach. I want to try out snowshoeing. I want to hunt for agates all day, see the Northern Lights with a good view. And there are so many other things I don't even know about yet that I hope I'll get to do one day!

 Sometimes I ask the Mr. "What if this is where we will grow old? I just might become an old lady in this wilderness that we call home. And I'll watch you become an old man." 
And so I guess this is the beginning. 
Cross-country skiing? Check.








Saturday, February 25, 2017

This is all I got so far.

We've lived in Alaska now for about 2 months.
I am delighted that we live in a lovely little home, located just down the street from church.
(The church: also known as "our home away from home".)
So many people put so much time into preparing this place for our arrival. I am ever so grateful, grateful, grateful!
Most of the moving boxes have been emptied, so that's happy thoughts. And my creative space (The Bubblegum Room that was renamed The Jailhouse Barbie Room by the fellas) is my FAVORITE spot in the house right now. It's a pink & white striped sanctuary of giddy & smiles.

 Funny enough, the Mr. hangs out in there quite a bit. He says it's because he likes to be closer to the internet connection. Apparently the couch he usually sits on, fifteen feet away in the neighboring room, presents too much of a network lag & delay. Whatevs. I'll keep his company. And besides, I like the stark contrast of hunky man against this candy coated wonderland of a room.

Due to the recent move, there are still piles everywhere. And partially unpainted walls. And a general theme of "unorganized chaos". It's a bit overwhelming, to be honest. I wonder how long I have until I have to stop blaming the mess on "the recent move". You know, like I blamed my post pregnancy body weight on the babies, until they were well into elementary school. 

Though I'm finding myself more busy than I expected, my routine thus far is pretty simple. In the morning, I look outside at the darkness, waiting anxiously for the light. And then when the sky begins to glow, I run around to all the windows & open all the blinds. It's one of my most favorite parts of the day.
That sounds so sad. But it's not. I'm not sad about it at all.
We are gaining light quickly, every day. The family & I are all very excited to experience the Alaska summers we keep hearing about. Note to self: buy blackout curtains.

In the afternoon I am usually busy with errands or odd jobs on the computer or planning/dreaming/scheming (either solo or in meetings) while procrastinating painting all the trim in the house that needs several coats of white, or the spots in each room that still need to be cut in with paint: where the walls meet the ceiling...& around windows...& around doors...& around closets...& around the baseboards. Seriously, when this house-painting thing is all done: party at my house. You're all invited.

Oh, & for evening entertainment, I'm a moose watcher now. It is so exciting! Twice in one day, two different moose showed up at my Jailhouse Barbie Room window, eating branch snacks & leaves. I was so scared & excited. I hid in the darkness of my room, hoping not to startle it. Can a moose headbutt a window? Because if that were to happen to anyone, it would happen to me. And I need to be prepared.
My moose-watching station at the front window quickly became obsolete as, on the second night of Operation: Here Moosey Moosey, the blinds ripped from the wall & came crashing down. Oops. So now a sheet is tacked in place where the blinds once were & it has been strongly suggested I steer clear from touching any manually operated window coverings. Or windows in general. Or just that side of the house.
#livingtheklutzlife
BONUS: On the same day I spied the two moose, I also witnessed a tiny bit of the Northern Lights for the first time. It was a cloudy night + I didn't even have a great vantage point, but still, the sky did some amazing things. It was breathtaking. I saw a glowing peach cloud softly & gently explode. The color was so faint. Yet I still couldn't believe my eyes. It was like an ebb & flow of pastel. At one point I saw a streak of bright light fall down toward earth. I thought, "Jesus is coming!" Either that, or aliens! Nature magic is so bizarre & fantastic. I can't wait to someday see the Aurora Borealis for reals. Like, brilliant with color & all radiant with light. There are even websites that predict when the Northern Lights might appear, within an hour or two.


My nighttime bedtime habits are a little quirky, & consist of any combination of the following: tucking my pajama pants into my socks (because, cold shins), the warming up of the microwavable heat pack (best gift ever to give the girl that's always cold), sleeping with a small portable heater aimed in my direction (again, heat + cold girl = friends forever), &/or stacking many, many, many blankets high atop me.
FACT: I make the best bed nest EVER.

I was going to brag about how, since living here in Alaska, I haven't fallen at all in the snow yet. But then I went cross-country skiing for the first time last week. That's a whole 'nother story I'm saving for the next blog post.


One thing I have discovered in my short while as an Alaskan resident is that I am convinced wherever I am, there is help around the corner. Without a doubt. I mean, I have heard the stories of these superheroes of The Last Frontier. But I hadn't experienced it for myself. Until the Mr. & I were on our way to a CrossFit workout at the church one night, & our minivan got trapped in the snow, just several feet from the house. Five trucks + six gentlemen arrived on the scene at different times to help us within the 55 minutes we were stuck out there.
It was dark. It was snowing. It was cold.
Help from friends, help from strangers, it doesn't matter. That's how they do in Alaska.

(Pazely, who was supposed to be hopping into bed at the late hour this incident happened, decided to take advantage of the occasion as her parents were otherwise preoccupied. She threw some snow clothes on over her pajamas for a quick play in the snow. The powder was up to her knees!)
It was a beautiful night.


My lack of content these past several weeks on the blog is because I have been waiting for something exciting to write about. I've been anticipating some yet-to-be-accomplished grand adventure that I could describe in detail. I've put a pause on blog composition, in case anything, ANYTHING thrilling might happen, just so I'd have something interesting to share with you.

But the little things are the big things to me. They always have been. They always will be.
My life these days is filled with winter boots at the front entryway & winter storm warnings. Cold bed sheets. Snowman-building. Making pets of wild bunnies. Warm socks, 24/7. Stumbling through the sometimes awkward world of creating new friendships. Happily sacrificing my yard as a thoroughfare for moose crossing. Learning to dream big. Snowy walks on snowy beaches. Discovering new places to retreat & pray. Finding inspiration in the frozen details of my new landscape. Glimpses of the mountains as we go into town. Living life together with a new church family. Wondering how long the icicles on my house are gonna get. Learning to drive in snow.

This is all I got so far.
And I love it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

H2O to the Rescue

I don't know what it is about water. I need it. I'm not talking about the 8-ounces-eight-times-a-day routine (which I need also), but the tributaries, the gulfs, the creeks, the straits--that sort of thing. I love being near the water. It has always been a place of retreat & calm for me. There's just something in me that needs to know I'm not landlocked. I've lived near oceans & rivers & bayous & swamps & bays. Even a small man-made lake once. I navigate to the water for inspiration, for a few moments of quiet, for meditation, self-examination. For a jolt of joy, really. The water is catalytic in bringing me to a Good Place. So, in a way, it's my therapy. 
I've not always been lucky enough to reside near bodies of water though...
I remember shortly after the Mr. & I were married we moved into our own place. It was an apartment. We lived in Arizona. There was desert all around. Pretty much no water anywhere. I admit I felt a slight suffocation at the thought of daily life surrounded by all that dusty sand. We lived on the top floor of our building. Standing on the balcony I looked past all the cacti & aridness...& then I spotted it: A shimmery pond. I was ecstatic. It was far away, but it was there. I could definitely see the glint & flash of that water catching the sun's rays. During our days in that 3rd floor dwelling, I would often peek out the back sliding glass door for a glimpse of that pond--& just let out a breath of happy. 
(I later found out my pond was really just a reflection of the sun on a blue metal roof. 
But still, it got me through.)

My family & I recently left my beloved city of Richland, Washington & the Columbia River, to come to Alaska. Jesus knows. He knows I need my water. So, not only did He make sure I live in a town near an arm (which is like a bay but skinnier?) of the Gulf of Alaska (which is a neighbor to the Bering Sea) but He has sprinkled this state with over 3,000,000 lakes (that's THREE MILLION) just for me. (Ok, for other people too.) 

On a recent {& rare} blue-sky-full-of-sun kinda day, I suddenly decided to go exploring. These cloudless days mean I need to do just that. To see nature...the mountains...the water. For my sanity & well-being. (It is my number one mission, living in this new & strange land, to fight the gloomies.)
The Mr. took me to a super close beach spot, just past the girls' school, a few minutes drive from home. He stayed in the car while I had a mini photo adventure. 
*Fifteen minutes was all I could take.*
My thighs & face got coldest first. And my trigger finger was a close second. Unfortunately the batteries in both my camera AND phone were almost dead. Plus I forgot my macro phone lens. I'm all for spontaneity. But this kind of spontaneity obviously takes some planning. I'll remember that for next time.

I spotted animal tracks all over the snowy shore. I immediately made a 360-degree scan for any wild animals. I guessed the tracks might be from moose? The snow was so deep, it was hard to tell. They were probably just some random dog tracks. But there is nothing romantic about dog tracks. So I decided  that, yes, they were moose. I imagined that a mommy & a baby moose were out foraging for breakfast earlier this morning, taking the scenic route to a buffet of pinecones, lichens & mosses, just around the bend of land that juts out, which I've never ventured to, but I'm certain I will this summer.

And I may (or may not) have performed an impromptu solo ice skating routine on accident. You see, though I AM surrounded by water, most of it is frozen at the moment. Everywhere, different shapes of ice. The rocks are covered in mud colored ice. There are little ice shards that look like broken glass, crunching underfoot. There are ice ripples covering every surface of ground. There are sheets of ice slowly floating by in the water. There are rounded blobs of ice sitting in the frozen sand.






But it all makes me happy, as seen in exhibit A.
I know I'll be making countless more of these 15-minute excursions, getting my weekly dose of water. If I get some snow pants I may be able to last a few moments longer. And then if I get one of those crazy balaclava face mask thingies NOTHING can stop me. 
Yeah, I'll do that.

Six months ago I was sitting on a fleece blanket on the grass by the river in Eastern Washington: watching ducks & geese swim around, enjoying a picnic with my daughters, tossing rocks in the water & watching their ripples. It was my sanctuary. I would have never guessed that, six months later, I'd be walking along a cold coast in Alaska: watching boats on the inlet & mountains in the background, squatting in snowboots & kneeling in the cold to get a good look at all the ice formations, not able to toss a single thing in the water because it's all stuck to the frozen ground.
I have found a new sanctuary. Not because I have to. But because I need to.

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