Here I go!

I’ve been in a bit of an upheaval in the past few weeks. My house is once again on the market, which feels good. I’m hopeful, fearful, wondering about next. But this also gives me a lot of motivation and incentive to tackle some chores that I’ve been avoiding for a while now…the dreaded sort, pulling out and evaluating everything with a view to: KEEP / DON’T KEEP and SELL / DONATE. Or worst of all: WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS????

There are a lot of questions to answer, and work that I’m still doing..will be doing until I’m literally heading out of town. And that’s good too. Busy keeps me going, productive, and positive. And who knows how long it will take to sell? I don’t want to jinx myself, but you never know about these things.

I’m trying my hand at a few new things. I decided to use my Alaska experience as a bridge to a new adventure, so I’ve written a short e-book, So, You Want to Move to Alaska? Hot off my keyboard today. I self-published on Amazon’s Kindle site, and whether it sells two copies or two thousand, it was a good experience for me to work through. It takes a day or so to show up on the Kindle site, and I’m excited to see how it looks in final form. I see they offer an option for updating, even after the initial publication, so that reassures me in case I find a typo right away. Even after proofing, it seems like there’s always something missed.

I understand that non-fiction books are a good source of ongoing income…the more you work at putting titles out, the more chance you’ll make sales. The price is low…$2.99, but the idea is to make up in volume what you lose in the per-book sales amount. I’ve got a second title already in the works.

Anyway, the process is free. I wouldn’t say it was painless, but I think I’ll be able to do a second book much more easily now that I’ve been through it once.

My little Kindle book!

I’m also launching a YouTube video channel. Or at least I’m working on doing that. I’ve got a camera in hand, and I’m sorting out the process, and content.

I’m also changing the focus of ReVision Me. I had initially thought I would use that site as a business platform for writing and editing, focusing on healthcare documents…policies, strategic plans, etc. But I find my heart isn’t really in that. I’m still working in that world for my day-to-day income needs. But now I think I’ll focus the concept of ReVision on women my age…maybe men too, eventually, but it seems safe to begin with the gender I know.

In taking stock of where I am in life, I realize, for what it’s worth, that I could be a poster child for AARP. I’m 53, female, vibrant, energetic, looking to renew and extend my working life. I have a multitude of interests outside of work, I have extended family and a wide range of life experiences. I love the digital world, and I think I have something to offer.

I know there are already a lot of sites that cater to women, and even women of my profile. But I have a voice too, and I want to use it. So, I’ll be updating some of the work I had done on ReVision Me to bring it to a new focus. I set it up on the WordPress.org platform and will likely have affiliate advertising to help sponsor the site….another new adventure.

And last, I’m thinking about Etsy. Not sure how I can be part of that marketplace, but I’m intrigued, and I have been for a while now.

My challenge is to focus, and to look toward a new launch. Waiting is always the hardest part, isn’t it? Maybe if I’m busy enough it won’t be too too scary.

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Hole in the soul

A few years ago I was struggling. I was going through a difficult time, feeling depressed, sad, empty, not myself at all. For a time I was miserable, but over a period of months I came to terms with some of the issues I’d been struggling with. And eventually life was better again; not perfect, but so much better.

Sometimes I remember those months, and what I learned from the experience.

Depression steals your energy. I remember feeling like I just wanted to sleep, to escape. Simple chores were overwhelming. The only thing that kept me somewhat normal was work. Work helped me put on the façade, gave me a reason to get up and get moving. Because I didn’t want to bring drama to my work place, I tried to minimize what I was going through, tried to hold myself together so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed with my co-workers.

Depression steals your appetite. At least that was what happened to me. I lost interest in cooking. I was alone a lot during those months, and it was easy to ignore meals when I wasn’t hungry, and too disinterested to cook. I lost 20 pounds in a few months. Best and worst diet experience I’ve ever had, the only “diet” that was effortless. In the past I’d put on pants or a favorite skirt and realized it was time to lose a few pounds. I’ve never before had to look through my closet for something to wear that wouldn’t fall off me.

Depression steals your interests. I would try to read to take my mind off the things that were bothering me. I couldn’t read. I would try to watch TV. I couldn’t stay engaged. I couldn’t settle myself long enough to accomplish much. I was restless and yet exhausted.

Depression steals your rest. I slept a lot when I wasn’t working. But often in the middle of the night I would wake up and my mind would race, going over and over the things that were troubling me. I was sleeping all the time, but not resting. My sleep cycle was broken by stress and worry, and somehow, the more I slept, the less I rested.

Once I was in the grocery store, walking around like a ghost, feeling the physical impact of depression. I felt like there was a hole in the middle of my body where my stomach should have been. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself with a gap between chest and hips…a hole that only allowed for the churning engine of stress that took the place of my belly…and even though I knew there was no hole, I remember thinking that the gaping emptiness seemed so real, I was surprised other shoppers weren’t staring at me, stopping to ask if I was alright. Because I had a hole in my middle. It was a surreal experience, and I wasn’t even on any medication. I was just feeling the drowning grip of sadness.

I walked around the store, filling my cart, looking normal on the outside, feeling lost and empty on the inside, and so aware of the gaping hole. As I walked around, I began to wonder who else was walking through the store with their own holes, invisible to me, but so real to them. Holes in souls.

That question took the focus off myself and allowed me to stand back and recognize that I probably pass people all the time who walk around with holes. I just don’t see what’s in front of my eyes. I try always to be kind, to be thoughtful. But even so, there are days that I’m wrapped up in my world. I pass people on automatic pilot: kind but remote, polite but disinterested, because I’m busy, and on the run, and don’t really look close enough to see the hole that’s devouring the person in front of me.

Living for a time with a hole in myself helped me realize, in a way I hadn’t before, that a lot of people walk around like that. Walking wounded. They put on the face, just like I did. They go through the motions of living, just like I did. Some get help, and some get relief from a change in the situation that’s causing the pain. That’s what happened to me. Circumstances changed, the skies cleared, my smile came back.

It wasn’t without some effort on my part. I did a lot of soul-searching, made some changes that were within my power to make.

It was a humbling experience. When you’ve always been hopeful, mostly happy, mostly sunny side up, it’s hard to recognize a self who’s drowning, who can’t snap out of it. You begin to look at people who struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness through a different lens. You find more compassion, more appreciation for the struggles that are invisible to the eye, but so real to the heart.

When I remember that time, now I can feel grateful. It taught me a lot about myself and helped me find strength I didn’t know I had. I learned the value of “wait and see.” I learned that the phrase “trust the process” isn’t just something you hear in corporate settings. I learned that life will often right itself, if you work with it.

I don’t want to tempt fate by thinking I’m invincible. I’m not, and the truth is, no one is. If there is a next time, I think I’ll manage my hole a little better. I think I’ll know to trust, I’ll find my smile a little faster, a little easier. The reward for weathering the hard times is being better prepared to face whatever comes, and knowing, knowing, that you’ll survive, and thrive, and grow above. Eventually, assuredly.

Once you’ve worked through a hole in your life, you’re never quite the same. You’re scarred, but you’re wiser.

I no longer have an engine of stress running in my stomach, or feel like there’s a hole in my body. But I can empathize with those who do. I don’t talk a lot about this experience…just doesn’t come up in normal conversation. But now and then I see an opportunity to speak up, to share, to encourage, to say, “I’ve been there.” It’s a powerful thing to look back at a challenge and know you’ve overcome. And it’s a powerful encouragement to someone else to hear a first-person story, to know someone else really gets it.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out now. I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this, except that I suddenly wanted to.

I’m not sharing to get sympathy. I’m sharing to give hope.

I started my blog during those months, started it to stake a claim to the positive person I knew was somewhere inside. I was determined to find my way to that self again. And I did. I had help from a few significant people who knew what was going on, and some of the conflict in my life subsided.

After the worst of it was behind me, I noticed I was singing again. I noticed I was interested in food again. I noticed I had a renewed sense of grace, of redemption, found a new sweetness to life that stays with me. I sometimes have small setbacks, and I sometimes feel discouraged. But I’ve never gone to the depths again. I’ve learned the signs to watch for, and the steps toward healing.

I think I’m a better person than I was, in part because of what I went through. It changed me, grew me. And though the details are not important now, I can share this much: to anyone reading this who is lost and despairing, don’t give up hope.

Do something to get yourself moving, literally. Get off the couch, do the smallest thing, and let that lead you to the next thing, and the next. Action inspires hope, and hope is the lifeline to healing. Reach out; there are probably more people than you could guess who understand at least some of what you’re experiencing. And give yourself time. Time can be your ally, and in time, you can look back and see that you’ve come a long way from your lowest point.

You’ll find your smile again. You’ll hear yourself singing again. You’ll sleep through the night again. And you’ll know you’re healed.

 

Wounds

 

Happy Birthday Mom!

Well, I’m breaking one of my blogging rules. I like to spend some time catching up, reading favorite blogs, answering comments, posting a few of my own, before I launch a new post. But with a week of little ones and work to fill my time, blogging has been on the back burner. I’m still recovering from having an 18 month old running around my house, and a four-year old that has a million questions and opinions. It was a joy, every minute of it, but not conducive to writing.

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday, and I’ve done the standard things. I wished her happy birthday by phone, and with a Facebook post, and sent a gift, and we’re planning a girls’ night out in August when we’ll have a little visit in Seattle. But I wanted to do it one more way, marking the moment here, putting it in writing because I’m not there to say it in person.

It’s not a momentous birthday, 74, although really they all are, whether it’s a decade milestone or just a somewhere-in-the-middle number. We are 20 years apart, she and I, my big day lagging a few months behind hers.

Marking the moment

Marking the moment

This photo was made a few birthdays ago when she was up for a visit. She’s a traveler, that being part of her life’s work as a Christian missionary, along with my dad, to many locations, most in Asia. So a little trip to Ketchikan is just opportunity to see another part of the world. And when she’s visited, we’ve seen bears, and eagles, and done a little cooking and a little sampling of the local fare. She’s sat in my living room and seen the float planes and the cruise ships that dock just beneath my windows.

But mostly, visits are about connecting, whether in Alaska or her home in Mississippi.

My mom is one of a kind, an amazing woman in so many ways. This was my tribute to her a couple of years ago, and it sums up perfectly the mom I know, who has been dear to so many, and made a difference with her life.

Happy Birthday to my mom, the one and only Betty.

~ Sheila

Visits and birthdays, the good stuff

It’s a busy month for us. Stephanie, Riley, and Jack are up for a summer visit, so we’ve temporarily gone into kid-land. All the breakables and anything that looks likely to become a missile in the hands of 18 month old Jack have been moved to higher ground. He’s a climber, but there are still a few spaces out of his reach. Yesterday he disappeared into the kitchen for a minute. When I walked in, he was sitting in the middle of the breakfast table, and as soon as he saw me walking toward him, he stood up, quite proud of himself and reaching out his little arms for a lift down. Gave me a mini heart attack, but didn’t phase him at all. He’s fearless and fast, and a boy…always a dangerous combination! But he’s so stinking cute, we forgive him all the rest and just follow him around to protect him from himself.

 

Fearless Jack!

Fearless Jack!

Riley is in one of the golden ages of childhood. Four year olds are old enough to do a lot, still young enough to be funny without knowing why (endlessly amusing to the adults :). Her speech is clear as a bell, but she has a few Riley-isms that we can’t bear to correct…she’ll grow out of them soon enough. Princess doll gloves are “glubs,” and she asks if I “memember” something that happened yesterday.  Sometimes she notices that we’re laughing at her, which we always deny immediately, but can’t help. She’s just too funny, in the sweet little-kid way of being funny-when-serious.

Riley the First-born

Riley the First-born

She’s a talker. With her gene pool, she could hardly escape that. We have long and interesting conversations that are wide-ranging. We discuss everything from princess fashions to the dangers of zombie attack (thanks, older kid at day care, for introducing her to the concept) to playdough creations. She’s learning to write the alphabet, gearing up for pre-school in the fall. She’s also standard issue first-born, bossing Jack around and clearly expecting to be in charge of life. But the other side to her personality is sensitive and affectionate, so just when you think she’s verging on teenager, she’s a sweet little girl again, charming and disarming.

I never really stood a chance. The grands have planted their flag.

It’s also a month of birthdays. I counted up, and between immediate and extended family, we have seven people celebrating in June. Today is Alex’s birthday, number 27. We sent several gifts his way already. I wish we had the gift of his presence so we could enjoy a birthday dinner together. But not to be this year. Still, it’s a moment to mark and remember. In his honor we’ll eat some bacon (his favorite) and have a family pass-the-phone-around conversation tonight. I’m always fantasizing that we’ll spend more of our big days together, and maybe someday we’ll be able to do that again. But for today, we’ll have to content ourselves with a digital connection.

Alex, happy 27!

Alex, happy 27!

Alaska is cooperating with some beautiful weather. The water is so blue when the sun is shining on it, and such a gun-metal gray when skies are overcast. We watched cruise ships yesterday, and float planes, kayakers, small boats, and fishing vessels, all from the front windows of the house. The Tongass Narrows is bustling this time of year, and my only complaint is the float planes start buzzing waaay too early in the morning. They’re out by 5:00 am, taking advantage of the extra hours of daylight this time of year. (Sunrise today was at 4:04, sunset tonight will be 9:31, with twilight lingering a little beyond.) And while float planes are noisy any time of day, they are particularly noticeable and obnoxious before coffee. That’s really my only complaint of summer here. Well, that, and the days that are summer on the calendar and fall by thermometer. But hey, as long as my heat isn’t kicking on, that’s a good day :) (Not many places that statement defines a good summer day!)

Blue water!

Blue water and Ketchikan

Pacific Airways

Pacific Airways, local transport

 

So, off to play, and rescue small people from high places, and feed, and strap into car seats, and make photos….lots of photos! We’re looking for bears, and fish, and a souvenir or two…because what kid ever visited grandparents and didn’t go home with a little something to show for it? Here’s hoping for blue water and clear skies!

 

Thanks to the Dads

To all the dads I know: may your day be wonderful and full of the good stuff: laughter, and words that touch the heart, hugs, and the moments that become snapshots in memory. The years fly by, but the good stuff somehow lasts, photos of the mind that take us back, connecting through time and distance.

I have those mental snapshots of my grandfathers, my dad, father-in-law, my husband, brothers, uncles, son-in-law. Watching these men over the years as they fathered…some in more traditional ways, others more hands on and involved…I’ve seen a breadth of styles and relationships. Above all, I appreciate their commitment and integrity.  Just like me as a young mom, I’m quite sure they were making it up on the fly, figuring out how to be a dad in the midst of all the other demands life was throwing. Does anyone have the luxury of learning to parent at leisure?

There are a lot of words of wisdom that fly around on these days, and anyone can learn from the example of others. But words fall away in the face of actions. It is the actions of these men that I reflect on today. Watching them interact, sometimes at the high points of life, others in the valleys, I see men who were able to connect with their kids, be there when it counted, when the going was rough. I see men who have been quiet heroes to their families, not perfect, but trying. I see men who stayed, fathers who lived up to the name.

I see dads, and I see kids…young ones, adults, and everything in between…who have relationships. And they’re good ones. Thank you to these men, the men of my family.

But more broadly, thanks to the men everywhere who are fathers, and who make a difference, not just in the lives of their children, but in the lives of all of us. Fathers doing a good job make all of us stronger, and better, and healthier.

Enjoy your day, and celebrate the good stuff. And feel proud: you’re doing your job, you’re making a difference. And we love you for it.

Image

PB and Riley

 

 

Colorado Maple Bran Muffins

So, Saturday morning needs something more than cold cereal or a yogurt. Some weekends that means pancakes or the Southern treat of grits and sausage. But today I’m falling back on an old reliable that combines comfort and just a wee nod to the healthy side of baking. I made bran muffins, a slightly adjusted variation of the classic recipe that can live in your fridge for several days, allowing you to produce a warm breakfast treat in a matter of minutes.

I used to make this one regularly for my kids. These muffins are one of my son’s favorites, always on the menu for those rare occasions when he has a chance to visit us in Alaska. Brings back good memories of chilly Colorado mornings and the aromas of coffee and maple in the kitchen. Delicious!

Colorado Maple Bran Muffins
 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups Kellogg’s All Bran Cereal
1 1/4 cup milk OR buttermilk (use whatever you have on hand)
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil OR melted butter
1 tablespoon maple flavoring
1 cup raisins
 
OR

You can use Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal in this recipe instead of the All Bran Cereal and raisins…just add 3 cups of the Raisin Bran cereal in place of the 2 cups of All Bran and 1 cup of raisins.
 
 
Stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, soda, and salt.
 
In large mixing bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand about 5 minutes.
Add egg, oil OR butter, and mix well. 
Add flour mixture, stirring until ingredients are combined. Add raisins if using the All Bran/raisin combination. 

Ooey gooey batter

Ooey gooey batter

 
Spray muffin tin with cooking spray, or use cupcake papers. Spoon batter into pan and bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter. YUM!
 
The batter will keep well in the fridge for several days. If muffin batter has been in fridge for a few days, add a little more baking powder and soda (about 1 teaspoon each) to help muffins rise when baked.

If you want to make this recipe more healthy, replace 1/4 cup up to 1/2 cup of the AP flour with wheat germ, flax seed or flax meal. You can also replace the butter or oil with applesauce or a ripe banana, and add nuts for some crunch factor. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe and can take almost any substitution you throw at it. But the basic version is tasty too. Just keep in mind if you mix it up, you’ll need to watch baking times closely and adjust if necessary.

Mmmmmm....

Mmmmmm….I see raisins peeking!

 

Enjoy!

View from the top

The assignment for Writing 101:

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

I’ve always been drawn to lights and high places. Sometimes I find a combination of the two.

When Rob and I moved to Colorado, we first lived on the Western Slope. Grand Junction, Colorado was our first real home away from home. We moved there in 1987 with our three-year and and our three-week old. Rob started residency in Family Practice at the local hospital, St. Mary’s, we bought a little starter house, and settled in. Grand Junction was good to us. He had a great training experience and we grew some good friends there. It was a beautiful western community with a perfect high desert climate and scenery to spare. The town had a small feel to it, the local peaches were legendary, and for five years we thought we had found a home forever.

But opportunities beckoned, and eventually lead us across the country, to a new home in Michigan. Midland, Michigan was another wonderful community. As the corporate headquarters of Dow Chemical, Midland had amenities that you wouldn’t typically find in small towns. Our kids had friends all over our neighborhood. I was an event planner for the local Chamber of Commerce, Rob had his first experience with corporate work.

But the winters there were hard, and long, and gray. And while there was a lot about Michigan that charmed us…Mackinac Island, summer cherries and fall apple orchards, Polish pierogi, the beautiful lake shores and the small, colorful towns…ultimately, we missed the Colorado sun, and the mountains, and we began to talk about next…next jobs, next home, next stop.

Once you start having those conversations, it’s only a matter of time.

We looked at a couple of practice options, but it was an easy decision to accept a job in Denver, taking us back to the mountains and the sunshine.

When you drive cross-country, heading toward the Rockies, if you approach from the east on I-70, you reach a point when you can just faintly, ever so faintly, see the outline of the peaks in the distance. That was the moment I always anticipated.

We drove it many times, and in fact, those drives had started in our childhoods, both families drawn to the Colorado mountains, though in different seasons. My parents were summer visitors, heading west on summer vacations, packing the iconic station wagon with four kids, bags, food, books, games, and more books. And music. My dad always had music with him, and by the time we were making those trips, it was cassette tapes, boxes and boxes of tapes.

Rob’s family went to Colorado to find snow, and they found skiing. In the 70s, driving out over spring break to experience winter and the mountains, they created a family tradition, returning year after year to satisfy a love of exploring, and beauty, and escape from routine.

Those trips were the beginnings of our love affair with the West, summer and winter, and the Colorado mountains.

After we got married, when Rob and I talked about where we wanted to live, the mountains of Colorado became our destination of choice. In 1995, that dream came true. We moved to the foothills of the Front Range, Genesee, nestled between Evergreen and Golden. At night we had a view of the lights of Denver to the east, and we had soaring peaks to the west. Perfect!

It was perfect, and from the day we moved to the mountains, I promised myself I wouldn’t take the views for granted, wouldn’t let it get old.

Even good things in your life become insignificant if you can’t see them anymore. 

I used to drive around, running my errands, and even after we’d lived there for years, I’d catch myself just staring at the scenery. I never got tired of it, never looked past it. Living with the views made me grateful, kept me humble, fueled my joy.

Our view to the west

Our view to the west

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

The river bank

Snow frosted

 

I’ve never been a city girl, but there is one city that completely charmed me, makes me want to know it better and better. Paris, the City of Light, is beautiful and timeless.

It’s romantic and iconic.

It seems familiar from all the movies and photos that have made it famous; but it’s unknown too..when you’re walking around, seeing the landmarks with your own eyes,  there’s a quality of déjà vu, and surreality. You can’t understand the aura from photos, or movies. You have to see it for yourself to absorb the little shops, the cafés, the traffic and the people, the Frenchness. I guess that’s true of most places…you have to experience in person. But somehow it’s more true there. There’s magic in Paris, that’s the only way to explain it.

View seat

View seat

The Paris Icon

The Paris Icon

Paris wandering

Paris wandering

Riverside in Paris, 2009

Riverside afternoon

The funny thing about that trip was how meaningful it was to both of us. We’ve done a lot of traveling together, and sometimes a place that speaks to one of us doesn’t  impact the other. But this was different. We were in sync with each other and with the city. And to this day, it is a touchstone for us, an experience that caught us by surprise, filled us with delight.

We thought we were just doing the tourist thing. Turns out, we carved out memories for life. And you never know when life is going to hand you those moments. So it’s important to pay attention.

The good stuff can only be planned so far. I’ve learned to leave room for the joy of the unplanned, the surprise of the unexpected.

At the end of our exploring, tired and footsore, we headed to our hotel in the heart of the city to recover and get ready to leave the next day. But late that night, I think it was a little before midnight, Rob insisted we go back out for a last look at the city, and the lights. I was so tired, I almost didn’t do it.

But how can you say no to Paris?

We walked a few blocks, and this was our reward:

DSC00881

Paris night-light

It was worth putting on my shoes again.

I’m so glad I said yes. If I’d said no, I would have missed one of the perfect moments of my life, of our lives together. 

Seeing the lights of the Eiffel Tower, sharing a midnight dessert at a quaint little café within sight of that stunning monument, was the perfect end to our trip, the perfect date with my best friend.

Saying yes to life has served me better than saying no.

It has caused me to take some wrong turns, true enough. But even those wrong turns have lead to good things, and make up the mosaic of life. So when I find myself hesitating, I remember the lights, and a midnight walk through Paris. And I know that I’ll choose yes, because there might be a night-light worth seeing, and I’ll miss it if I say no.

June promise

June 2nd and another month presents itself. Already half through this year, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the tasks I listed for 2014.

I really wanted to improve my blog this year, and I’ve done that in fits and starts. Like all my rhythms, writing often takes a back seat to travel and routine, or lack of one. But I’ll admit that’s often just the excuse. The root of what I’m missing is not a better grasp of technology, it’s the discipline to sit down, even when I’m time-zone challenged, and power on my lap-top, put words on the screen instead of reading them off.

I signed up for Writing 101 to put some structure around my goals, and this is my beginning. I’m sitting surrounded by the stacks of packing, getting ready to go back to Ketchikan tomorrow, back to work, away from days of sun and camping. But I stopped my sorting, sat down to gather my thoughts. Packing is just another distraction, and it will wait.

Today we ran errands out in the hot California sun, the little red pick-up we keep for getting around down here feeling oven-like until the blast of the air-conditioner cooled us down. I’m going back to Ketchikan with specialty cheeses and my favorite pasta sauce and Panzanella crackers. I stocked up on some farm stand corn, the first of the season down here. Got a burger at In-N-Out, satisfied the fast food craving with crispy fries and animal style.

I drive around and wonder if I could ever live here, back in the hustle-bustle after years of small town life. I don’t know. I toy with the idea. Some days I think I could, then the traffic gets to me, or the big box stores seem too big, and I’m happy to find myself out on the rural roads that lead back to the campground. The slow speed of a winding road suits me better than interstates and freeways.

Driving here is a lot like the life I’m living: it’s either the fast lane and overwhelming, or it slows down to a pace I enjoy, and I find myself daydreaming, mesmerized by the scenery.

It’s easy to get lost in your own life, so caught up in the details of living that you forget — you forget you had a plan, and goals, and a timeline. I call it the “where am I?” — you know, that dazed look that says you’re trying to catch up… what state am I in?  what space I’m in (house, trailer, apartment?) and the commitments I’ve got the next day…which clinic am I in? What food do I have in the fridge, and is the bed made, and what season of clothes do I need for tomorrow?

I’m making it sound worse than it is, but at that I’m often disjointed enough. I don’t know how people who travel every week manage. And while I love it, I’m also weary of it. Ready to stand still for a while, find my feet on solid ground. Ready to put the details of life on auto-pilot and give my attention to the things that matter. Still, or again, finding my focus. The funny thing is, I read over these words and it sounds like I’m self-absorbed. But I think the opposite is true. I’m not paying enough attention to the life I’m living. I’m largely floating on the current of events that carry me along. And that’s not what I want. I don’t want to be driftwood in the current of life.

What’s the secret formula? I already know. I just have to reclaim it for myself. The secret is service, and giving, and living with such purpose, such intention, that my busyness finds meaning again, and my work is a labor of love, not just a labor.

And so I promise anew. I promise to make life matter, not just mark the days off the calendar. I promise to notice the details that are worthy, and let the insignificant be just that: insignificant. I promise to love, to cherish, to fill each day with some task that is meaningful and powerful.

Thank you Writing 101! Thanks for the reset, thanks for the reminder. Maybe that’s the power of a blog…the self-reminder that each life matters, and if so, then my life, my contribution, matters too. I just have to find the way, and at the same time, promise not to take it all too seriously. Wouldn’t want to do that. :)

The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.

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California burger

 

 

Summer corn

Summer corn

California rambling

Seaside

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Pacific blues

The travel trailer

The travel trailer

 

Fresh picks

I’ve been on my own the past couple of weeks, back in Alaska to do a little work for income, and to have a little work done on the house. I’m focused on policies and grants for one clinic, and filling in for the medical staff coordinator at the local hospital. The variety keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and productive.

On the home front, the house and deck were power washed and some of the paint was refreshed. With a house that’s almost 100 years old, there’s always some project in the works. The replacement glass for my cracked front window has arrived and I almost had that replaced yesterday. But no, the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a gale of a storm and had to postpone until June. My hedges and trees are all trimmed up, and I have a new lock on my fuel oil tank. So I’ve marked off a few of my to-dos.

But it’s not all been work. There’s been cooking too! Or at least some cooking, and some prep for future yumminess.

Last week I bought a king salmon, the first one of the season. Here’s that beauty:

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

Thank goodness it came without the head and tail and guts. I don’t need any of those, although I hear I’m really missing out by not making fish head soup. But someone else can enjoy that delicacy. I’ll just content myself with the non-head parts. I’m taking some of the fish I vacuum sealed and froze down to California for a little Memorial Day grilling. See, I know how to get ready to camp. :)

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at smoking some of the fresh king. I borrowed a Little Chief smoker and researched a brine recipe. Here’s my finished product:

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

The smoked salmon makes a great dip. I can’t give exact amounts, but try blending smoked salmon and a block of cream cheese to a chunky paste in a food processor. Some people add onion or other seasonings, but I like just the salmon and cream cheese. Serve with water crackers or whatever dipper you like. Easy and delicious!

I made a quick pickled salad this week. You could use any firm vegetable. I used diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced red onion, and diced baby bell peppers. I made an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing and seasoned it with a little sugar and salt and pepper. Again, no measurements…just mix to taste. (You’ll want enough dressing to coat the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it.) Chill in the fridge to give the veggies time to absorb the flavor of the dressing. It’s a cool and crunchy light lunch or dinner.

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

And last but not least, I harvested my rhubarb this week. Rhubarb is a late comer to my life. I discovered it about a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the tartness and the way it pairs so well with other flavors to make amazing desserts.

I started my rhubarb crop here in Ketchikan with one plant a friend gave me. This stuff is hardy. You plant it and forget about it. Two or three times each summer I have enormous leaves and stalks that demand attention. The rhubarb is planted behind the hedge in my front garden, and when I begin to see the leaves poking out above the hedge, I know it’s time to harvest. You can cut the plant down to the ground and it grows right back. Let me just say, here and now, this is my kind of gardening! Seems indestructible, impervious to weather, and I literally do nothing but cut it back a few times a year.

I should have made a photo of the plant, but I wasn’t in blog mode when I was in harvest mode, so you’ll have to google “rhubarb” if you want to see the the full glory. I’ve been told that rhubarb likes cooler climates, which is probably why I first met it in Colorado and renewed my acquaintance here in Alaska. My grandmothers, who grew most fruits and vegetables known to man, didn’t grow rhubarb, so I assume it would not do well in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Which explains why I missed out on this taste for so long.

The edible part of the plant is the stalk, which looks a lot like celery, except it is a deeper green and has shades of red and pink as well. You cut the stalks off and remove the large leaf that grows at the end of the stalk. Then you wash and dice. That’s it! You can use the fresh rhubarb to make all sorts of dishes. I see savory recipes and I’ve even tasted a couple. But I’ll admit, I just use it for desserts and sweets.

You can make rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam. You typically see rhubarb paired with another fruit, and the classic choice is strawberries. Yes, yes, that’s a good flavor. But do yourself a favor. If you can get your hands on rhubarb, pair it with orange. Orange zest, orange marmalade, orange juice. Nothing. like. it.

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

You cut the long stems off the base of the plant and have these celery-like stalks. They’re even a little stringy like celery. The only thing I do is wash and chop. You’ll have different widths but honestly I can’t detect any difference in texture or flavor once the rhubarb is cooked down, so I use the small tender stalks as well as the monster wide ones.

Chopped!

Chopped!

I used a little for a sweet treat (reward for my two weeks of work!) and popped the rest into freezer bags. It’s the easiest thing to freeze. I just chop and bag. No need to blanch or prep in any other way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me :) )

Butter the bottom of a small baking dish. Spread a layer of chopped rhubarb and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. I added a couple of teaspoons of orange marmalade, then topped the fruit with a crumb mixture. The crumb mixture is a combination of quick cook oatmeal, brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Spread the crumb mixture on top of the fruit and bake at 350, about 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is lightly browned. Voila! Dessert, or snack, or whatever you need to call it to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

If you want to mix in other goodness, add nuts or raisins. You can also do this with strawberries or apples instead of the marmalade. I just happen to like the orange, so that’s always my first choice to pair with rhubarb.

Happy start to the summer! And happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the people who’ve given so much to freedom and our way of life. Remember them while you’re enjoying family and friends this weekend, and find a man or woman wearing the uniform to thank.

 

Good things come

A couple of years ago I wrote this:

I struggle to patiently await the unfolding of events. I have a lot of ability to be patient with people, but not with circumstances. It is especially difficult to wait through something that seems to be holding up my life…like selling a house…have I mentioned that I have a house on the market? Just a few times?

While I am waiting, I think about one of my favorite phrases. I remind myself that many things happen “not at once, but at last.” Often I see this at work in life circumstances. Other times it defines a personal journey. I am not able to understand something at once, but at last, I get it. I am not able to forgive something at once, but at last, I am able to find that spirit in my heart.

I need soak time, time to mull things over, time to absorb. I don’t know if that makes me a slow thinker, or a deliberate one. Maybe it comes to the same thing. But I do know that when I’m faced with choice, conflict, decisions, I need time to reach a conclusion. And that’s frequently the way life is, at least in matters I would like to be quickly resolved. There is a process, or a chain of events, or a natural unfolding of the story that must be accommodated, must be honored. To try to rush an answer, in my experience, generally leads to a bad outcome. Or a different outcome than I want.

And so I wait. I wait for life to sort itself out, for forces to align. While I’m waiting, I’m doing what I can to make myself ready. And while I’m waiting, I see things happening that give me hope, bolster my faith, help me to know that when the time is right, I’ll have the answers I need. Not at once. But at last.

No, I haven’t sold my house, and it isn’t even listed right now. That story is still in the making.

But there’s another story unfolding, another example of “not at once, but at last.”

My son is going to college. He’s planning to get a degree.

He’s almost 27, spent five years in the army, has worked the last three years. He has a commercial driver’s license, and has supported himself with driving the last couple of years. He’s doing well and advancing in his job. But finally, finally, he wants to pursue education.

It’s been a long time coming. When he was in high school we expected him to go straight to college, and he almost did. But ultimately he chose the army instead. That was an education in itself, and a decision he’s proud of, one we supported. After five years, he finished his army contract, and we talked school again.

No, that’s not correct.

I badgered him to go to school, and he dug in his heels. He just wasn’t interested, and nothing I said made a difference.

Last week, out of the blue, he told me he’s going to enroll this fall. He wants to get a degree in engineering. He got bored, and he’s ready for a change.

Let’s just say I was…surprised. And then I remembered my line.

Not at once. But at last.

Tonight he called to tell me he’s rearranging his work to accommodate a new schedule. He’s going to use the GI Bill. He’s working out the details, with no prompting from me, no coaching. I know he’s just in the early stage, and there’s a long road between the first semester of a degree program and the last. And I know he might not get there. He might get derailed. I know all that. But it’s a beginning, and he’s taking the initiative.

I also know that a degree is no guarantee of success. Life can be rewarding and wonderful without higher education; a degree is only worth something if it leads somewhere. I know people who went to college, but didn’t really benefit from the experience. Somehow though, I don’t think that will be the story here. I want this for him so he can discover his potential, and that’s really what education is about.

So again I absorb the lesson life has to teach. Be patient. Let the story unfold, let it write itself. Don’t assume you know how it will end because you’ve seen the beginning.

This time the lesson is sweet. It’s very sweet. Not at once. But at last.