Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On the swell and the crash {Just Write}

There's grass weaving a pattern through the pavement. And there's wind carrying a scented cocktail of sea and blossoms. And there's me, running with mountains to my left, waves to my right, looking but not seeing. I left sub zero temps to escape to this paradise with my husband, and I have no business being anything less than euphoric as I run without hat and gloves for the first time in months.

But I'm not anything close to euphoric. At best, I'm content. At worst, I'm disappointed. And somewhere in the middle, I'm trying to talk myself into gratitude, willing myself to stay in the moment, loathing the way I can't seem to outrun the anxiety.

I want to believe that I'm easily pleased, that I'm mostly a happy person. But there are moments adding up to hours and days and even weeks when I'm close enough to the edge to lose my footing, when the sturdy trail narrows into inches, when I'm one footfall away from a faceplant.

I don't want you to see the ugliness. I don't want you to know how irritated I was with the rooster that kept waking me up at 3 am, or with the coffee maker that didn't have any filters, or with myself for leaving the camera charging cord at home, or with the way our plans were foiled by a road closure. Because for real. I'm in freaking Hawaii celebrating my wedding anniversary with my awesome husband. It's negative eleven degrees at home where my awesome children are being wonderfully cared for by my awesome parents. How the hell can I feel so crabby and disappointed with all that awesome floating around? What is WRONG with me?

Don't answer that.

Here's the thing. I know what's wrong. Imagine the ocean, the swell of the waves, the way they rise and fall. Imagine a mountain, the highest peak, the way it juts like the tip of a triangle into the horizon. I want to perch on that tip, that narrow, steep, impossible top. I want to float on that swell, that fleeting, porous, impossible top. But that's not how it works. How it works is that you crash into the sand. How it works is that you tumble down the mountain. (Jack and Jill will vouch for me on this). How it works is that the highs are never quite as high as we hope they'll be. And the lows are far too frequent.

I don't know what the answer is. Gratitude is a big part of it, I'm sure of that. Meditation and prayer. Hugging the awesome people in your life. Smiling more. Visualizing anxiety in the form of a person and then punching it in the face. These are all good ideas, but really, what do I know? I'm not the answer lady, not on this one.

But here's what I do know. It helps to know that we aren't alone. It helps to know that even people with picture perfect lives (guilty!) feel totally effed up at times. It helps to know that these valleys, these crashes, these crumbly-earthed trails, these are the rule, not the exception. No one gets to linger on that impossible top of the mountain. No one gets to float endlessly on the swells. I'm telling you this because I don't want to feel like something's wrong with me, and I don't want you to feel like something's wrong with you. If we must live mostly in the valley or in the climb or in the fall, let's at least give each other good, honest company along the way. Yes?

And speaking of good company, I'm just writing today, with Heather.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hashtag Amazing

Different day, different place, same #amazing moon
I tried to take a picture of the moon as it rose above the mountains from my highly artistic perch in the grocery store parking lot. I wanted to show you. I wanted to say to the lady rifling through the too-yellow bananas in search of the green--I wanted to ask, "Did you see that moon? Isn't it amazing tonight?"

I wanted to post it on Instagram so all of us, all of us shopping for groceries under the same ridiculously bright moon, could agree on the beauty. So you could click the clear little heart for "like" while fiddling with your phone in the express line. All you needed were bananas and milk. So this picture of an amazing moon, well, that would be a bonus.

I live in a place that routinely takes my breath away, be it because it's zero degrees or because I caught a glimpse of Denali under the pink spell of a winter sunset. A mountain hundreds of miles away, and I can see it as I drive home from getting the eggs and returning the library books. How is this even for real? I think. And on I go, driving through postcards. Even if I could take a picture while driving, the picture wouldn't do it justice. Not to the moon, not to the mountain, not to the moment.

But beauty shared, eyes ahead, shoulders beside, is so much richer than a glimpse alone. There's something deep within my DNA, even as an introvert, that cannot see a beautiful thing without calling out to you to come see it too.

When we drove 4600 miles from Ohio to Alaska, we divided our lives and livestock into two cars. (I drove the children, and L got the dog. I'll let you decide who had the better end of that bargain.) We used two-way radios to communicate. We thought we'd just use them to decide on pit stops and clarify directions. But we could barely go 15 minutes without calling out. Did you see that? Gorgeous! Look to your right! Amazing!

By day four, we had a running road trip joke. Whenever we saw something beautiful, we'd ring to the other car and say in our best valley girl voices, "Hashtag aah-MAZE-ing!" It became a thing. The kids chimed in with their adorable little voices and a hundred times a day we were shaking our heads, saying can you believe this? Hashtag AMAZING.

The human condition is this: We need to see the beautiful things to keep from giving up, and we need to see them while standing next to each other, eyes lifted, not staring down at screens. So grab someone near. Tell them to look at the moon or the sunset or an open field or a two hundred year old building or whatever beautiful thing it is that you see with your own eyes. And I promise you, it will be doubly amazing without the hashtag.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

In which I procrastinate on house stuff by signing up for a marathon

I should be hanging pictures right now. I should be making dinner. I started in on this project to finally hang my hallway pictures and then I got distracted by the urge to sign up for a marathon.

I've had the urge for about a year, maybe more, but I successfully ignored it (much like the hallway picture hanging chore), citing lack of time, the inability to commit, the impending transition to a then unknown destination.

But the transition is complete (all moved in, except for the hallway pictures). And I finally have the time to train. And I'm tired of waiting. I want to get this 26.2 mile long monkey off my back. For the record, 26.2 miles makes for a really heavy monkey, you guys.

And if I'm going to torture myself for three and a half hours, I should probably choose somewhere cushy to do it, somewhere not 5 degrees and snowing, somewhere that isn't dark all but 6 hours of the day. California, perhaps? In January, you say?

Sign. Me. Up.

So here's the plan. I'll bribe the family to come along with promises of Legoland and Sea World. Whenever they whine about how I forgot to feed them because I was busy running the whole damn day and then fell asleep on the foam roller, I will pleasantly remind them that if they ever want to see their precious Legoland, they will be nice to mommy at ALL times. (Insert Dr. Evil-esque selfie

I will do this. (Run a marathon, Silly--not hang the pictures! Hanging the pictures requires way too much follow through.) I've been training for several weeks already, so I'll just keep going, knowing that's it's for real now.
If I lay all the hallway pics in the middle of the hallway, maybe it will force me to finally hang them up? #Don'tholdyourbreath #Justwatchyourstep

If you want to follow my training, I'll be chugging away on DailyMile. If you want to see how nice my hallway looks when after all the pictures are hung up, check back with me in February.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It's Monday, so of course {Just Write}

It's Monday, so of course. I start the morning by picking a fight with my husband about where to store the winter gear. It's the first fight we've had in months, and I'm listening to myself yelling about where to put the hats and gloves and shoes. I am excessively angry about mittens, and we are supposed to celebrate my husband's birthday today. Happy birthday to you, your wife is a shrew....

I'm walking back from the bus stop when my neighbor reminds me about the girl scout meeting at 5:15. Crap. Thought I'd have all the time in the world to make the birthday dinner, but apparently, not so much.

I hurriedly slice up the eggplant while my daughter asks me how to spell "have" and "does" and "what" and "fireweed". The timer beeps, and I grab the pot holder and run to the oven.

"It's a compound word. So first you spell fire, f-i-r-e, and then weed, w-e-e-d." I turn the bundt pan upside down, and out falls the birthday cake. And by fall, I mean fall apart. I try not to do the same.

My husband comes inside.
"The fence guy is finished...he just needs a check."
"Great. Ok. Can you take care of it? I'm busy ruining your birthday dinner."

I go back to the eggplant parmesan and the failed no-fail cake, tempted to spell another four letter word....s-h-i-...

"Jo, you told him we didn't need the back section done?"
My husband is back, and this is a question. A good one.

"No, he did the estimate before the neighbors put in the back fence, but I thought he was going to finish the part that theirs didn't cover. Oh my word, he didn't do the back?!"

We both race out the mudroom door to wave down the lumber-laden fence truck. On my way out, the door slams into my son's cheek as he is trying to get in. I return to find him in tears. Oh, buddy, I'm so sorry. Crap--is that another timer going off? What the hell did I set that timer for?

It's 5:15. Time for the meeting I forgot about. I take deep breath after deep breath on the walk to girl scouts. I tell myself that the intensity of my angst and frustration is in no way warranted by the circumstances. Nothing on my list of woes is a big deal. Not the stinky blue cheese spilled  all over the bread cutting board, not the useless 85% complete fence (that might not be rendered useful until next spring!), not the likely-mildewing laundry that I forgot to put in the dryer, not the ruined cake.

A few minutes into girl scouts, I listen to six of the cutest little first graders spontaneously break out into a chorus of "Down by the Bay." I take another deep breath, inhale the blessing of a healthy, happy (at least at the moment) child.

(I feel like I should leave out the part where I return to finish the dinner, mess up even more stuff, run out of pans in the drawers because they are all in the sink. And the part where my healthy, happy daughter throws such an egregious fit that she has to go to her room in the middle of dinner--screaming loud enough to make our ears bleed. Oh and the part where my husband's plate gets cold while he addresses the behavior with my daughter, the part where....)

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, I believe I was inhaling blessings or some other inspirational crap like that. But for real. If this is what my worst day looks like, then I can't conjure up one legit reason to complain. (Except maybe about the mittens. Those wet, stray, disorganized mittens really piss me off sometimes.)


I know I said it was Monday, but it's actually Tuesday. And on Tuesdays, we just write (in this case, about Mondays).

my monday moment of zen (borrowed from a view on a friday run)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In cloudy and in clear

When the notification popped up about the aurora borealis, I was peeling apples in the kitchen and the kids were racing scooters under a cloudless sky. It said to "expect a show come nightfall", that the northern light activity would be as high as it gets, that tonight was the night.

At dinner, as we discussed school bus seat assignments and the government shutdown and reading log prizes, my mind wandered hours ahead to how I'd catch the lights on my camera. As I scooped the potatoes onto plates and said yes to thirds on applesauce, I pictured what an epic Instagram the aurora borealis would make. Northern lights! With my own eyes! How lucky am I?

The clouds rolled in while I was washing the dishes, scrubbing the cinnamon sugar from the bottom of the applesauce pan. A half hour later, the sky reportedly lit up with green and pink. But I didn't see a speck of it.

I'm sitting now at the desk, typing, and the clouds have only grown thicker. This is the verge, the cusp, the almost but not quite. There's a metaphor here screaming to be crafted into a moving and inspirational essay about perspective. If someone could write it up all nice and pretty and goose-bump inducingly, and then send me the link on Facebook, that would be great. Until then, I'll just be here pouting about the clouds.


It was dangerously gorgeous on the way home from school today. And by dangerous, I mean, so pretty that I might possibly pay too much attention to the mountains and not enough to the driving. I want to capture it somehow, but I'm too tired to come up with words that do justice to the extraordinary beauty perched on either side of the road that loops between the ordinary places, from school to home, up the hill from the river valley.

It feels surreal to be in this vast and beautiful place, just driving my same old car, coming back home to my same old burgundy chair, the one I sat on in Virginia and Maine and Ohio and now, here in the last frontier.
See, this is why I can forgive Alaska for snowing on the first day of fall

There's a stage of moving when everything feels familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, when routine takes a solid four-walled shape within adventure's high-peaked circus tent, when life feels simultaneously risky and safe, when skin prickled hope mixes with bone deep contentment. I'm in that stage. We'll call it the honeymoon stage. It's also the can't-go-to-bed-angry stage, even when my beloved state promises lights and delivers clouds.

So good night, Alaska. I love you, for warmer, for colder, in cloudy and in clear.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Because life is as short as the winters are long

The snow came slipping in on the first day of fall. She was the guest that showed up for the party on the wrong Saturday, a month too early. But instead of retreating in embarrassment, walking backwards down the sidewalk in profuse apology, she came right up to the front porch, invited more friends. Next thing I know, we're surrounded by flakes.

It was the earliest snowfall in over 60 years. Alaska really rolled out the white carpet for us.

Can we let this sink in for a moment? I had to send the kids into school with snow pants in September. Also? I had to find the snow pants on a Monday morning with zero minutes to spare. Which did not create a considerable amount of merriment and glee on my part.

When the bus returned that afternoon, the kids came barreling off, begging to put off homework until after they had a chance to play in the snow. Because it might MELT before they could play! Um, you guys? Eight months. You have EIGHT MONTHS to play in the snow.

Oh well. I gave in. Go play. And yes, you can have hot chocolate. And sure, marshmallows too. Because life is as short as the winters are long, and I'm going to try to say "yes" as much as possible.


My husband is home after five weeks away. He essentially deposited us in Alaska and then took off for military training. Which was remarkably similar to the pattern of medical residency (times two).

It goes like this. We move somewhere new (Maine, Ohio), and before I can say "honey do list", he disappears into the halls of the hospital for lordknowshowlong. The only differences this time were that he didn't come home to sleep and he did his own laundry. Will I get in trouble if I say it was easier this time?

I'm so glad to have him home. This didn't register super high on the list of difficult things we've done, but it was still on the list. He's already back at the hospital, but at least he's not four time zones away. He's definitely worth the extra laundry.


Last Monday, I had to change my running route because a bear (a BEAR!) was reportedly meandering down the bike path that I normally run. So I pulled up my big girl shorts and found somewhere else to run for a few days. I'm faster than I used to be, but I won't be outrunning a bear anytime soon. So 'tis best I continue to employ bear avoidance tactics and leave the 1x10m bear sprints out of my speed workouts.

Why yes, those ARE ice chunks on my hat and fleece
This Monday, the running obstacle of the week was snow. The good news was that I didn't have to spend much time digging out my hat and gloves. They were already in the middle of the floor along with the entirety of the winter gear for our family of four. (See above: locating snow pants in zero minutes.) There's another upside here to snow, maybe two. First, who needs a hydration belt when you've got snow flying straight into your face? Second, it's damn gorgeous and beats the heck out of a treadmill screen.

Yes, I miss crisp fall days and apple picking and outdoor soccer and acorn squash from the farmer's market and watching with my own eyes Giambi's walk-off homer in the thick of the Tribe's hunt for the wildcard. (Shockingly, we don't get the Sports Time Ohio channel in Alaska. Lame!) I could stir up trouble in my heart thinking about how long eight months of winter running is going to feel. But what's the point of that? I've decided to take it a run at a time, to take each day and mile for whatever it is.

Today the sun came out clear, and the snow on my roof went dripping into the driveway. Grass is glistening green again, and the mountains are the brightest white. It's September, and my lungs are filling up with the clean, cold air of the last frontier. I can see my breath, and every morning there are so many opportunities to say yes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Nine {Just Write}

Oh, there are so many things right now. For one, he's going to turn nine this week. NINE. As in almost ten. My baby.

He has glasses now and we just finished Harry Potter number three. We usually read together, but he got so excited that he couldn't wait for me, and he read ahead on the bus. The first thing he said when he stepped off the bus was "Mom, I have so much I need to tell you."

I'm thinking, oh, field trip info for tomorrow or something happened on the playground, but no, he sputtered out a dozen breathless paragraphs, every last one about Harry Potter.

Tonight as we read the last chapter, I didn't hurry. I glanced up at least a dozen times to see his not quite nine year old eyes twinkling in the soft lamplight. I savored each page. Because it's not every day you get to read the last chapter of Harry Potter number three for the first time.


This weekend we went chasing the sunset and wound up in a place that reminded us of Maine. My birthday boy named it "Mainetown, because it's like Chinatown is for China people, a place you can go that reminds you of home." He's almost nine, and he's an old soul, and he's my baby.

I'm just writing again with Heather. Because of course.

Monday, September 9, 2013

White Hatted Mountain (Just Write)

There are a hundred things I've been meaning to write, and a hundred ways I've been thinking I'd say them. But I've run a hundred miles in these twenty days. And the miles steal my words, quiet my heart. They take away my urge to speak, replace it with an urge to listen (and to eat).

Today I ran a new road. I hugged the curve, pad padded on the gravel shoulder, lifted my head, and bam, I ran right into Autumn.

Fall here isn't so much the turning leaves as it is the mountains putting back on their white hats. The tallest ones go first. They wear them well after Labor Day in the most scandalous unfashionable magnificent way.

From here on out, I'm going to take my cues from the tall, gutsy white-hatted mountain who lives around the corner from me. Today she told me to stop slouching and stretch tall into a quiet rhythm. To stop caring whether it might keep raining, to start seeing the faces in the clouds. To give up hoping to be heard, to bundle up and to lean hard into listening.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Do you know what's beautiful in the rain? (Just Write)

It's not always unicorn-shaped glaciers and rainbows around here. Sometimes it's just the rain, minus the bow, for days on end. The Alaskan clouds aren't so great at reading the social cues. Reluctant to part, they linger long after the proverbial hostess clears the table.

The latest spell of clouds and rain lasted just long enough for me to forget what a sunset looked like. Such that when I caught the orange and pink hues peaking through the pine trees just now, I nearly flipped out. "ohmygosh ohmygosh, I've got to take a picture. I wonder if that's the aurora borealis? Ohmyword it's just so gorgeous! This stupid phone photo isn't going to to do it justice!" And so on...

You learn to appreciate, to celebrate the rarities, whatever they may be, wherever you are.


Yesterday, I wanted so desperately to hike to a scenic overlook here in town. But we woke to rain and clouds. And my son complained of a sore throat. And my daughter complained of a severe hiking aversion. And I knew right then that no amounts of bribery and sugary snacks were going to make that hike feasible, let alone pleasant.

I picked at the leftover corn bread and sulked for all of five minutes before it hit me. You live in freakin' Alaska. Quit your pouting and go find something beautiful. Pretty sure glaciers don't melt in the rain, you big whiny baby. At noon, I was googling "glaciers near Anchorage". Two hours later we were standing on the shores of a glacial lake. 
The clouds, the rain, they hung on. But so did I. That's what raincoats and boots and triple shot lattes are for. It's going to rain and snow for most of the year. No choice but to grin and gear it.

But here's what I'm really trying to say:
Do you know what's beautiful in the rain?


Friday, August 30, 2013

The Home Stretch

It turns out Whitehorse, Yukon Territory was perhaps one step above Dease Lake. Which is saying very little. Don't get me wrong. The scenery surrounding these areas was unbelievably gorgeous--even in the cold and dreary rain. It's just that the towns in between were a strange brew of frontier meets ghetto.

Let's take Whitehorse, for example. Our hotel was right next to the "real" Canadian superstore. Which is apparently not Walmart? Because Walmart is the fake American one? I don't know. Whatever. We purchased chocolate drumsticks there, and I can vouch for the fact that they were both real and super. So I'm giving the real Canadian Superstore some points for that.

Anyway, I woke up the next morning to walk the dog and hunt for really strong coffee. Which, without the coffee, might result in me walking the coffee and hunting for a really strong dog. Anyway, when I got back to the hotel parking lot, I caught a glimpse of L's truck and did a doubletake.

The kids' bikes were missing from the bike rack! I'd just assured my restless little ones the day before that as soon as we arrived in our new neighborhood, we'd ride our bikes around the clock until we knew every last cul de sac by heart. And now this?! Stolen bikes! 

I stormed into the hotel, breathless and two seconds away from a total meltdown, and asked the front desk attendant for the phone number to call the police. Did you know that they call police officers "Constable" in Canada? I would've found this amusing if I hadn't been so worked up about how these heartless criminals had just swiped the one form of entertainment that we'd brought with us for the kids.

Lucky for us, my husband has a somewhat disconcerting ability to think like a criminal. After we broke the bad news to the kids, shed a few tears and discussed the problem of evil in its entirety, L decided to make one last check of the property. Turns out the perps had stashed both bikes in some shrubs near the hotel, perhaps hoping we'd drive away after which they could claim to have "found" them.

Once the bikes were safely back on the rack, we gassed up the cars and got the heck out of Dodge.

The further we got from Whitehorse, the closer we got to this....

The day's drive was as spectacularly beautiful. It helped too, knowing we had just one more night on the road before we could sleep under our own roof.

Getting ready to leave our cabin and head HOME!
We crossed into Alaska that afternoon. Three hours later we were gulping down delicious Thai food on a table in our very own cabin while the kids ran around like monkeys who'd eaten through the inventory in a Fruity Pebbles factory. Then we chatted with some fellow travelers in the cabin next door who had also braved Whitehorse and lived to complain about it. (By now, our kids were old friends and had played about three dozen rounds of tag.)

The next morning, we got up, walked the dog, packed the car, grabbed some strong coffee, and then we drove home.

The most beautiful part of our 4600 mile journey was through the state we now call our own. It was worth a thousand Dease Lake moments (and it took at least as many!) to get here. 

It's so very good to be home.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Then we drove and we drove and we drove

Have you ever wondered what lies between the towns of Smithers, BC and Whitehorse, YT? No? Well, I'll tell you anyway.

That little red dot in the middle of nowhere = Dease Lake
Nothing but fireweed, my friends. And a random Jade store that also sells fuel. Oh, and also, a little horror movie setting of a town called Dease Lake, heretofore referred to as the place in which we will not stay, like ever again.

We repeatedly reminded the kids that this 4600 mile journey to the last frontier was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Because, yeaaah, after Dease Lake and Whitehorse, once seems like it's going to be enough.
This Jade store was perhaps the only sign of civilization for hours.
Aside from camping under the stars, there's one place to stay for roughly 800 miles, one little town that boasts no more than a motor inn, a saloon and a "restaurant". (More on those quotations later.) The day we drove to the aforementioned town of Dease Lake, it rained all day and continued to rain after we arrived. The motel itself was....(if-you-can't-say-something-nice-don't-say-anything-at-all)....dry.

We were all quite hungry after the long drive and our paltry granola bar lunch. So we went across the street to the only food joint in town. It wasn't crowded. Friends, when it's the only food joint in town and there's still plenty of seating, this will serve as your first clue. 

We ordered a pepperoni pizza. I mean, really, you can't mess up pizza, right? Right?!


I don't know what they put on it, but it wasn't pepperoni. Thinly sliced spam, maybe? Bologna? Slimy unclassified deli meat? Oh lord, where was Papa John when we needed him?

We got back to the motel and tried to settle the kids into bed. At this point, it's safe to say L and I were not our "best selves". I sulked as I sorted through the back-up suitcases in search of warmer clothes (did I mention it was 51 degrees out?). I felt at odds with my husband and annoyed with my children. And I swear my face was already breaking out from that damn pizza. 

Both L and I would later look back on that evening as the colossal low point of our journey, even coining a new phrase from the experience: "having a Dease Lake moment." Which translated into the vernacular means: No bueno / Me no like this / I freakin' hate my life right now.

The next morning we got up, took the dog to do her business, commandeered the lobby coffee pot to make our own respectably-strong brew (oh yes we did), shared said brew with a few other guests in exchange for their silence, and then hit the road for Whitehorse.

Then we drove and we drove and we drove. You might not guess it, but the Yukon Territory is kind of expansive. Forget the moon, kids. I love you to the Yukon and back. Now that's love.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In which the journey takes a turn for the remote

It appears I left us stranded in Jasper for the last two weeks. Seriously, two weeks. If I keep this up, I'll have us rolling into Alaska on Christmas day.

So yes. Jasper. After a dreary day of rain, the sun came edging out of the clouds just as we drove into town. We soaked in the vitamin D as we walked to dinner in the picturesque village. The children stopped along the way to climb and pose on bear and moose statues and beg for stupid gimmicky pink tourist crap. Yeah, um, no. We're giving you freakin' experiences of a lifetime, kids. You're just going to have to find a way to keep on living without the basket of miniature pink bear cubs. (Sheesh--you could dye a cockroach pink and my daughter would want to buy it.)

I took the kids to the hotel pool for a bit, then shuffled their dripping wet, dog tired bodies back to the room so L could settle them into bed. Then I donned one of the dry-wick tees collecting dust in my suitcase and headed out for a twilight run faster than Bogs fly off the shelves at an Anchorage Costco.  It was exactly what I needed to keep from going cattywampus. (We've covered this before, I believe.)
My turn-around point on the out-and-back run through Jasper
After Jasper, things got a bit more, howshallwesay, remote. We drove to Smithers, BC the following day. This was the part of the show when you fill up at every gas station you pass and begin to subsist on trail mix and random pantry items the packers left but you didn't want to throw away. (I may or may not have polished off a bag of croutons and called it lunch.)

And you learn something every day. When a sign says, "Watch for Livestock", this is what it means:
If I'm going to have to slow down, it might as well be for these beauties. They sure beat the heck out of Chicago traffic.

When we checked into the motel in Smithers, my husband gave me the "you seriously couldn't find anything better?!" look while my children hoped against hope (despite my repeated assertions to the contrary) that there might be a pool. I smiled at the clerk, took the keys, and then shot back my best "Don't. Just. Don't." look to everyone who dared make eye contact.

Later that evening, in this discomfort of our own space, I warned my husband. It's going to get worse before it gets better. You think tonight's bad? Just wait until tomorrow....

Dun dun duuuunnnn....

What? Don't you like my suspenseful ending? Aren't you hooked? Well then, come back tomorrow to hear the rest! Or maybe make that two weeks from tomorrow, or sometime before Halloween, or by the turn of the century...

Monday, August 12, 2013

In which I offer 10 not very practical tips for surviving a move (Just Write)

From a twilight run in Jasper, where I found my happy place / pace.
I know I said I'd be back with the rest of the story from Jasper onward, but that was before All The Things came, before my tail spin into a bottomless dish pack.

And just to be clear, dear Pedro--weakest link on the packing team--the box labeled "boys bedding" was actually a bunch of pictures and frames and old towels. That made me super mad, and I wanted to hit you on the head with the frying pan I couldn't find for two days. But don't take it personally. I've wanted to hit a lot of things with a frying pan lately.

On the bright side, I do have a chair now. Time to sit, however, not so much...


Yesterday, C had a melt down about not wanting to play the piano and about how no one loves him anymore, apparently because we were making him play the piano. This is quite atypical for my normally even-keeled boy. (The dramatics are his sister's bailey wick.)

So I told him to put on his shoes and follow me. As we ran around the block in the rain, I relayed the story about how earlier this week, I got so angry and frustrated and discouraged that I hid in the closet and cried and thought bad words and wanted to stomp holes through the floor.

"You did?" He looked up at me with surprise, like it was a relief not to be the only crazy one in the family.

"Yeah, I was a mess, Buddy. Daddy heard me and told me to forget about the boxes all over the floor and just go for a run. He was right about the run. It helped a lot. I cleared my head and prayed and thought about the good and beautiful things, like the cool weather and the fireweed and the mountains in our new backyard."

I squeezed his shoulder as we walked up the driveway. "So, did the run help a little bit?"

'Yeah, a little bit, I guess," he shrugged.

I rumbled his hair and moved his face toward me by the top of his rain-soaked little head. "Everything is harder right now, even the things that used to feel simple--like playing your easiest book on the piano. But it'll get easier, I promise."

"And Buddy?
You know I love you, right?"

He kicked off his shoes and cast me a sideways glance. "Yeah. I know."


You'll never see a post here touting 10 easy tips for surviving a military move. I seriously have no helpful advice on how to keep Pedro from mislabeling the bedding boxes. But if I had to give some tips, like if for instance someone held a packing tape dispenser to my head and said "MOVING TIPS! NOW! GO! That is, if you don't want this tape pulling every last red hair on your head...."

Then these would be my tips:
1) Blow off piano practice or unpacking or whatever it is that's making you crazy.
2) Then go for a run.
3) Find someone you love and
4) Give them a big sweaty hug.
5) Do the ugly cry together.
6) Say out loud just how discouraged you feel.
7) Then give voice to how blessed you are. (Reminder. Not being able to find your frying pan because you have too many boxes = first world problem.)
8) Write until you feel human again.
9) Go for another run. Give another big sweaty hug. Maybe take a shower too, if you can find the towels.
10) And when you finally find the frying pan, just put it away. Just put it away, and nobody gets hurt.

If these tips seem lame, keep in mind, I was under hypothetical duress when I came up with them. Also? I was just writing. I feel a million times better when I do that.

Monday, August 5, 2013

On taking the plunge

When you decide you are to have an adventure, when you're tired of feeling boxed in by the same old grow-up-and-stay-put life, this is what you do. You find a place on the cliff where the water below is deep, deep, deep. (Maybe nudge a friend to go first.) Then you fix your eyes on the far out spot in the sky, perhaps on the cloud that looks like Mary Poppins' umbrella. Then you back up, give yourself room for a running start. Then you run, leap, jump feet first, plug your nose, point your toes, scream to high heaven.

You can do it any number of ways. The key is to stop deliberating on the edge. The key is to jump.

We jumped, and I'm not a bit sorry. But there are still spots where I'm raw, where it stings to the touch. There are times, like on a Sunday afternoon, when I sit without a chair, trying to figure out how to undo the Amazon order that shipped 4000 miles in the wrong direction, times when I want for everything not to feel like such an effort, when I'd like to trade all this adventure crap for a nice long nap on a real mattress.

We've hit some snags and hurdles. It will all be okay, and there will come a time when I don't feel overwhelmed and alone. But it's going to take a good deal of swimming toward the shore and a healthy dose of metaphoric aloe vera.


There's a reason they call it Big Sky Country. Can you guess?
As for the actual journey to Alaska (the part of the jump where we flail our arms and make the crazy flared-nostrils face), I believe I left off somewhere around Yellowstone, yes?

Well, the following day we drove parallel to the ever gorgeous Glacier National Park before crossing into Canada. Thankfully my son waited to sing his improvised lyrics to Oh Canada until after the border agent let us pass.

We stopped in Calgary that night, staying at the hotel with the much anticipated "spinny slide" and pool.  Here's the honest truth. When you're a kid, hotel pools are the most awesome thing ever of all time in the history of the universe. And then here's the other honest truth--that when you're a grown-up, you just freakin' want to go to sleep. Of course, when you're a grown up, you tend to concern yourself more with putting smiles on your children's face than with your own need for slumber. So we swam until way past bedtime.

Pictured above: My favorite part of the leg from Montana to Calgary. Not pictured: The kids favorite part, aka the pool
We left Calgary the next morning with high hopes for another low mileage day, planning to take our time driving from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, a 280 kilometer trip touted as one of the world's most scenic drives.

I had already prepped the kids that there would be no screen time allowed on this particular leg of the journey, only gawking at glaciers and oohing/ahhing at the mountain views. But then it rained, poured really, almost the whole way to Jasper. The mountains and glaciers hid behind the fog and clouds, and every which way you looked? That's right, gray.

There was quite a bit more whining and ingratitude than I'm going to admit to on the interwebs (and the kids were a little ungrateful as well), but I stuck to my guns on the no-screen time decree. Instead, we began listening to the Anne of Green Gables audiobook while I craned my neck trying to catch a glimpse of something beautiful.

I had almost resigned myself to the "depths of despair" and declared our day "a perfect graveyard of buried hopes" when the rain finally began to subside. Then the sun threw a few darts into the clouds, and bam, bullseye. We had our view.
Oh, Marilla, I couldn't even imagine a place so glorious, could you?

Stopped for construction, the rearview mirror view, leaving the rain behind.
I've rambled well beyond what a reasonable person would want to read, so I'll save our stories and pictures of Jasper for the next post. 

But can we go back to the jumping just for a minute? When I started to write this (about 500 hours ago), I was weary and melancholy and dreading the unpacking of All The Things, not feeling nearly strong enough to navigate the 4000 mile leap we just made. But writing here, the words become strokes that get me back to shore. They take me back to the solid ground where I can look up at the cliff, now bending small against the sky, and to be ever so glad that I took the plunge.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Moats and boats and waterfalls (and geysers)

My dog still hasn't forgiven me for not letting her loose to frolic in Yellowstone Lake. She's not usually a puller, but man, had it not been for the massive amount of arm strength I've built up by stress-shoveling chocolate peanut butter ice cream into my pie hole, we might've both ended up going for a swim.

So yes, we made it to Yellowstone. We weren't able to find lodging nearby, so we just made it a short driving day and detoured our way through the beautiful national park. Our one and only must see stop was of course, Old Faithful. It was horribly crowded when we arrived, not a parking spot in sight. So we drove around the lot for another 20 minutes, doing wonders for both our bladders and blood pressure. After finally scoring a spot (ok, I confess, we created a spot), we rushed to the restrooms and then off toward the geyser to find out when this show of natural wonder would start.

Oh, it erupted five minutes ago, you say? While we were in the bathroom? Ok, no problem, so when's the next one? An hour and a half to two hours?? Gaaaah!

So we did the next best thing. We took a picture by the sign.
Watching the geyser not going off. Anti-climatic much?
When we finally made it to our hotel that evening, we were tired and crazy hungry. I found a restaurant on TripAdvisor that had great reviews and touted a kid-friendly menu. But upon arriving, we discovered that the restaurant was decidedly more "fancy" than we'd anticipated, not a crayon or kids' menu in sight.
L and I were craving a decent meal with recognizable vegetables and fish or beef that didn't make you wish you were a vegetarian. So we took the plunge and prayed the other patrons would be long suffering should our children choose to act their age.

I know it sounds lame, but this random meal in Butte, Montana turned out to be one of my most favorite memories from the trip. The kids ordered "fancy meals" from the grown up menu (chicken with artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes, salads, linguine, etc), drank lemonade from delicate glasses, and made delightful conversation. They rose to the occasion. That is, until I made them pose for a picture to prove how refined they were. Then they were all quick, pick up your spoon and start goofing off!


As I try to recall the details of the trip, so many of the moments I remember are the small ones. Like when I looked in the rear view mirror and C was wearing his bike helmet and creating facial hair out of post-it notes. Or the time I camped out in the laundry room at the Best Western until midnight to ensure we would all have 2,500 more miles worth of clean underwear.

There is little glamor to be found in driving two cars across two expansive countries with two young children and an old dog. I still cringe when I recall the packing and unpacking of suitcases each night, the loading and unloading the cars each day, the often fruitless pursuit of decent coffee each morning. But still I smile when I recall the way the horizon rose and fell on the back roads of Montana, when I remember the sound of D's voice as she tried to sing every word to our traveling song, the one we played every morning to begin our drive. 
Moats and boats and waterfalls, alley ways and pay phone calls,
I've been everywhere with you (that's true.)...
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I'm with you.
Even now, when we get in the car, they say, almost out of habit, "Hey mom, can you please tell Siri to play Home by Edward Sharpe?" And now, even when the music is off, I hear Siri's robo-voice saying, "Looking for Home....Ok, Jo, here's Home."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Once upon a time, in a small town in South Dakota

We spent the 4th of July at Mount Rushmore. It's all well and good for an impressive Facebook status, but to be honest, the park wasn't our favorite. There was no going off the paved and commercialized trail--not even a little bit. (It seemed like every other stone on the path was "sponsored" by one "freedom patron" or another.)
While it poured rain, we watched a film that emphasized the featured presidents' commitment to individual liberties. The irony wasn't lost on my eight year old. "Sooo, we're celebrating freedom, but they don't give us any freedom and make us stay on the same little trail the whole time?"

Still, I'm glad we made the stop. The mountain is a colossal work of art, and it was amazing to learn about the craftsmen and master artist behind it. And you know, the whole patriotic Facebook check-in thing doesn't hurt either. 

Photo credit: The 8 year old
An old filling station in Lead
We were planning to go back to Rushmore that night for fireworks, but they had stopped doing a fireworks display in 2012. (Our timing was impeccable.) So we headed to the small mining town of Lead in search of food and fireworks.

The town was quaint and inviting, yet rough around the edges, with a vintage toughness and tenacity to it. We made friends with some biker chicks in the line for lemonade, and then settled in for the fireworks.

My favorite part of the 4th of July would've been the same whether we'd laid out a blanket on a grassy patch in an Ohio parking lot or stood on a pier in Maine or fought through the crowds at the national mall in DC. It was when, in a small town in South Dakota, my kids leaned in (one on my lap, one under my arm), looked up, and marveled at what they'd later describe--before dozing crooked-necked in their car seats--as the "best fireworks ever."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

North to Alaska, the Rush is On

I'm not gonna lie. I wished some moments of my life away. The South Dakota moments, to be exact. Someone please tell me how Pa and Ma Ingalls didn't fall apart entirely on their way to Dakota Territory, because I'm pretty sure the covered wagons didn't come equipped with DVD players.
Pretending to be pioneers for about 5 minutes before resuming the begging for more screen time
Fording the Mississippi
After crossing the Mississippi, our first notable stop was the Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota. The signs for Wall Drug line the highways for at least 200 miles. These also happen to be just about the only signs you see for hours, which of course creates a desire to stop and see what all the fuss is about. So we stopped, along with the whole realm of humanity traveling on 1-90.

We hurried out of the 93 degree parking (baking) lot and into the AC. Who cares what time it is or whether we've had a proper meal all day, it's time for root beer floats!

The kids stopped to listen to the mechanical cowboy band sing "North to Alaska, the rush is on", and I felt a surge within my spirit.  

We're doing this. We're really doing this. We're moving to Alaska.

North to Alaska, the rush is on
This is the first post of  my feeble attempt to chronicle our two week journey from Ohio to Alaska. Much more to come. Also? I still don't have a chair. All hope for comfortable seating is still 8 days out, currently floating somewhere in the Gulf of Alaska. Now that we've been without our belongings for over a month, I can say that minimalism certainly has its advantages. It's just that the general enjoyment of sitting for any length of time isn't one of them.

Family selfie. After we'd finally made it to Rapid City, near Mount Rushmore

Sunday, July 21, 2013

We're home

I wrote a hundred pages in my head on the 12 day, 4600 mile, 83 hour drive. I blinked in a thousand images, willing my eyes to remember the way the lakes glistened below the glaciated mountains, the way the clouds and sun painted every shade of green and purple shadows on the hillsides.

This might explain why my head feels on the verge of exploding. I wish I could stick an SD card in my ear and just hit "download." But really, everyone knows you're not supposed to stick stuff in your ear. So there goes that idea.

We made it home. That's the first thing, the most exciting thing, and probably what I should have led with. We beat our belongings here (by what will likely be three weeks), and so we eat our cobbled together meals sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the kitchen tile. Even without a single piece of furniture, this house is a hundred times more pleasant to me than the cramped and restless hotel living of the past two weeks. I love it here. I love the house. I love the neighborhood. I love the trails around the corner. (I'm told the bears love the trails too, but more on that later.)

I haven't been able to write or to run very much for the past few months. I'd love to get back to doing both, as I feel enormously out of shape. My form and rhythm feel awkward, and what once felt effortless now feels forced. But I'm going to force it, the writing especially. However, before I begin writing hours upon hours in the land of the midnight sun, it might be best I have a chair first. (Sitting criss-cross-applesauce isn't my favorite.)

I'll be back soon with more pictures of the journey and maybe some commentary. In the meantime, I just wanted to tell you all that we made it. We're here. We're home.