When you live on an island in Alaska

If you’ve ever lived on a small island, (and particularly, a place with a challenging climate…can you say rainforest?…you’ll understand, and if not, you’ll have to take my word for this…

~Every trip out is exciting!
~The Seattle airport seems like home.
~There’s so much traffic, so many people in the lower 48…
~The stores are huge!
~Groceries are CHEAP!
~I fill my gas tank about once a month in Ketchikan; we’ll be at the gas station a little more often this week.
~Aahhh…dinner options…where to eat?! Choice is a bit limited in Ketchikan.
~Time to go shopping in person instead of on line.
~Sunshine returns to summer!
~Rob can golf while we’re “south”
~We can drive from anywhere to anywhere.

Perspective: This week, it’s all a matter of place!

~The food court at the Seattle airport…

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A little in-between

Made it through the week. Work is caught up (for the moment). Chores are done. Packing is finished. And tomorrow I begin ten days off, ten days of family time, ten days of sun and warmth. It’s good to have the breaks to look forward to, to escape the routine and the day-to-day. This next week is not about a luxury resort or exotic vacation. Those are great, but not essential. What’s essential is what is coming. Time to be with people I love (some of them anyway) and time to be still; time to experience; time to step outside myself and my norm.

Tonight is a little in-between space. I have all the satisfaction of completing my lists to leave town and all the anticipation of the week to come. Rob says some of the best time in life is the in-between. I think when he’s said that he is referring to the bigger gaps, the gaps that come between geographical moves or changes of jobs…the BIG spaces in life. But tonight, this small in-between is refreshing too. I anticipate seeing him tomorrow at the Phoenix airport, after a three week absence, and the special joy that comes when we’re together again. I think about seeing Stephanie and Matt, and of course little Riley…that little! I think about the small gifts I’m taking down, and the fun of sharing. I look forward to whatever we decide to do next week, Rob and I, as we luxuriate in a few days of no schedule and no pressure. I’m excited to hear about his week with Alex, and what they did together.

The sweetness of life is captured in moments, and we’re fortunate if we recognize those moments as they occur. Sometime I’ve realized, looking back at a time past, that I was really happy; that I was in a good place. Tonight I’m thinking that it can work facing future too. I know that I will be in a good place in the next few days, that I’ll say again, “this is the good stuff.” I like to know it’s coming, and to appreciate those moments in advance.

So, off to bed, got an early start to my day tomorrow. I’m in the in-between tonight, but soon I’ll be in the moment.
photo from here

My cash-free life

So, I’m traveling Friday, and of course I have a list of to-dos before I leave…plans for work, plans for packing, plans for a few things I’m taking care of around the house. The most important thing on my list? Now don’t laugh…this is a reflection of my cash-free lifestyle…I have to stop at an ATM and get cash for the airport ferry.

Airport ferry you say? What’s that about? Well, some very clever engineers, way back in the 70s, decided to build Ketchikan’s commercial airport…on a different island. Yep, that’s right, the ONLY available location for an airport that was feasible in this area had to be on a separate strip of land, across the Tongass Narrows that separates the island Ketchikan is on from the island home of the local airport. And how do you reach the airport? Is there a bridge? NO, there is not. If you recall the infamous “bridge to nowhere” issue from the last presidential election, that was about Ketchikan. No bridge across to the airport, but the local government graciously runs a small ferry that crosses twice an hour, for the small sum of $5 per person if you walk on. If you drive across, the fee is higher.

Now aside from the irritant that I have to back up my time to leave to include the ferry schedule, which is annoying in itself, the ferry operates on a CASH ONLY basis. How is that possible in this day and age? I don’t keep cash, don’t use cash, literally go for months, unless I travel out of town by myself, without seeing so much as a nickel, much less a dollar. The fact that I have to obtain cash to get to the airport is a special irritant to me. This isn’t about the $5 fee, which seems reasonable enough. It’s about the fact that it has to be paid in cash.

I keep a $100 bill in my purse, an emergency-only fund. But if I break it, that defeats the purpose of it being for emergencies only. Because then it would only be a matter of time before it would be nickled and dimed away, on this, that, or whatever. I learned a long time ago, before the earth’s crust cooled and when I had small children who loved happy meals, (and before fast food chains accepted credit cards) that if I didn’t have cash on me, I could be firm and say, “not today, Mommy doesn’t have any money.” And they didn’t know I could have gotten money. It was an effective way to keep us out of fast food restaurants, and to keep money from flowing out of my veins.

But wait, you say, you don’t have to actually be cashless to resist spending money. Well, that’s true, and being cashless doesn’t mean I don’t spend. Of course not. But it helps me be thoughtful about what I spend, and how I spend. One of my personal spending guidelines is that I don’t buy anything on a credit card for less than $5…that just seems unfair to the merchant, who has to pay a fee for credit card usage. For small expenditures like a Starbucks coffee, I buy a Starbucks gift card so I don’t have to pay in cash or ask the merchant to pay a fee for a very small credit card charge. Tips for meals or services go on my card, and there is really nothing that I buy, no where that I shop, that I can’t pay with my VISA.

The benefit to me, besides giving me an almost complete history of my spending habits and actual expenses, is that I use a card that gives me airline miles. And I use those miles. I pay the balance each month, so I’m not in credit card debt, and I make the card work for me. I figure, if I’m buying a gallon of milk, I’m flying on that milk. Or someone is. It’s a way to get a little more bang for my buck, and when you live in Alaska, flying becomes an important part of life.

I use direct deposit for my salary. I get a digital copy of my pay stub. I write a few checks each month, primarily for charitable contributions, with an occasional check written on a health savings account for routine care. But that’s it. Everything else is paid through my credit card. Except the airport ferry. They got me, and I can’t fight city hall. What would happen if I forgot to have cash on hand? Well, if I’m with Rob, not a problem. He seldom uses cash, but he always has cash. And if I’m not with him? Well, I might be stranded. You pay the ferry fee after you ride across to the airport island, but before you enter the airport…a real no man’s land. No ATM, no credit or debit cards accepted, and nothing but a grouchy woman in the booth to say, “Sorry, but rules are rules!” No, I’ve never gotten caught in the ferry wilderness…but I wonder what happens to poor souls who do. They’re probably still wandering about on the airport side, looking for a friendly face, an ATM, a five dollar bill on the ground.

And I wonder…how many people out there are like me, going through life without seeing, touching, or using real money on a regular basis? Sometimes I read about saving for purchases by emptying your change into a jar, and that amazes me. Do people really still have change every day? And why? I’ve lived this way so long, I’m not sure if I’m in the mainstream or an oddity.

Didn’t expect that

Had a first yesterday from the Salvation Army: they said they weren’t accepting donations! No, no, it wasn’t anything personal, although I’ve been a frequent flyer there in the past few months. They’re just doing a little rearranging, so I have to come back later in the week. Uh huh, a likely story! But I’ll attempt to drop off again in a day or two. Really, it’s all useful stuff, mostly knick-knacks I’ve outgrown the look of, or books that can go to someone else’s shelf.

I got home to find that since I left the house this morning for work, the front step bannister developed a need for a new paint job…was just puzzling over that when I realized what happened. I had the deck and steps power washed and obviously a little more came off than I anticipated. Fortunately I have matching paint on hand; now I just need a sunny couple of hours to touch up from the clean up.

I was weeding in my front flower bed over the weekend and discovered I have a small strawberry patch; who knew? I find new things every time I work in the flowers. Things grow so lushly it’s easy to miss small plantings. And the raspberry bushes that I thought were not producing…I went out on the back deck to inspect the power wash job and see what had been scrubbed away there. Happily for me, the deck and the paint on the house is intact. AND there are raspberries ripening.

I had two friends stop by my office on Monday. One brought a home-baked cookie as a thank you from his wife. We went berry picking together last week. The other brought me a locally grown rose. It smelled so sweet, and reminded me of my mother’s garden.

Had a little technology coup with my iPad. I figured out how to upload photos from my camera card without having to transfer from a computer. Turns out that a camera kit I bought does the trick, making it a breeze to add photos to enjoy on my screen or to use with my blog. That was easy!

Got upgraded to first class for my flights down to Arizona. I love that: I must admit it has been fun to be a frequent Alaska Airlines traveler and get the free upgrades.

My big planter of lettuces is growing amazingly well. I wasn’t sure if they would make it in a pot, but each of my three leafy varieties is thriving. Can’t wait to harvest and have a salad made with my own greens!

Another iPad find…I downloaded an app that turns the whole screen into a writing surface. You can write with your finger, or use a stylus that is specially designed to work with the surface of the tablet. I’ve seen some blog posts lately about going paperless using this technology. I’m not sure I’m that advanced yet…for one thing, I don’t want to wag my iPad around with me when I’m out and about, so I don’t think I’ll be putting my to dos or my grocery list on my screen. But this definitely brings a new element into play, and I’m excited to see how it changes my iPad experience.

Little surprises, little finds…sometimes good, sometimes exasperating. But however small, the victories and challenges pique my interest, keep me going, bring a smile to my face. Or not, but that’s part of the charm.

What didn’t you expect today?

Monday, but Friday’s coming!

Yes, it’s Monday. Not a bad one at that, although it’s another cool and rainy day here in SE Alaska. I’m hoping August brings some consistent summer days, because July hasn’t come through with sun or warmth.

But don’t get me started on the weather!

As my grandmother would say, I’m wishing my life away this week, mentally hurrying the days on toward Friday. And though Friday is the beginning of the weekend, it’s not the weekend I’m waiting for. This Friday I’ll head to Phoenix to reconnect with Rob, who’s been out and about visiting family in California, and is spending this week with our son in Ft Campbell, Kentucky. Next week we’ll be in Sedona, AZ, soaking up some sun, doing a little hiking and eating, and enjoying vacation mode together.

And a bonus: we get to see little Riley, have a “Riley sighting” on our way to Sedona, and another short visit on our return trip. isn’t it lucky for us that she lives in the very state we’re visiting?! Stephanie gives me updates on her “firsts:” today she tried a French fry, and watched a few minutes of “The Lion King.” She is saying a word or two, and has a favorite stuffed animal now. She brings a book to be read, and likes toys that make animal sounds. I saw her at her first birthday in April. Now, three months later, I think she’s rapidly becoming a little girl and leaving her real baby days behind.

This is the joy of summer, anticipating luxurious days of leisure and relaxing, and time to connect, and reconnect; to move slowly, to drink it all in.

Whether you’re looking forward to a long awaited destination vacation or are planning a laid-back week with kids or grand-kids, I hope you’ll tune out work and worry and invest in the moment. Invest in the people, and the joy of days without pressure, without rush; with the fun of serendipity.

I’m looking forward to long talks and good dinners with Rob; lazy mornings and quiet nights; hiking in amazing red-rock canyons; to dividing my time between my reading list on my Kindle, and the little books on Riley’s shelf. We’re going to the park, going out for a Riley picnic, and looking for a little girl “happy” that will light up the face of a 15-month-old.

I’ll be the one with the big smile. I’m connecting on Friday. It’s going to be a good week!

Peaches, taste of summer

Peaches are almost my favorite fruit. They definitely rank in the top three. The perfect mango or luscious strawberry is hard to beat, but fortunately, I don’t have to stay awake nights ranking fruit preferences. I can enjoy any and all without pressure.

Some summers are better than others for fruit, or a particular fruit. Peaches are iffy. Some years I’ve enjoyed a seemingly endless parade of peaches through my summer breakfasts and desserts, appearing every way from bare and minimal presentation to delicate pastries and hearty cobblers to jams and chutneys. Well, some years you get lucky.

This summer, so far, I’ve had a few good peaches. But I’m far from satisfied. I haven’t reached the point of feeling I could spare any fruit for stashing in the freezer. That only happens when I’ve hit the jackpot with both flavor and quantity, and the best opportunity for that is a visit to a farm stand, where you can sample the fruit and decide if you want to buy enough for a meal or two, or a more substantial amount that will translate to jams and supplies for the freezer.

Ketchikan doesn’t have farm stands, and the grocery offering is variable. Sometimes the peaches are heavenly, sometimes a waste of money and effort. But next week I’ll be in Arizona, and I’m hoping to do a little peach eating while I’m there.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself with excess peaches on your kitchen counter, here’s a little tip for having a taste of summer next winter: Peel and slice peaches, as many as you want, to fill freezer bags (whatever size works best for you, gallon or quart). Sprinkle fresh sliced peaches with lime or lemon juice to prevent peaches from browning, then fill bags with fruit, press the air out and seal, and pop in the freezer. Next winter when you want a reminder of a summer day, take out a bag of peaches and make a peach cobbler or peach crisp. Trust me, you’ll be able to close you eyes and think you’ve stepped back to July. The flavor will be summer, all over again.

Here’s a good way to use those frozen peaches:

My mother’s peach cobbler

1 gallon bag of sliced frozen peaches, partially thawed
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Mix fruit, butter and sugar, and heat to melt butter. You can microwave or do this step on the stove top. Put hot fruit mixture in a deep baking dish.

In a separate bowl, mix:

1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup granulated sugar
Milk (use anything from fat-free to whole milk, your choice) to make a pancake-batter thickness (should be a pourable consistency, but not too thin)

Pour the batter over the hot fruit mixture and bake at 375 degrees, until the batter mixture has bubbled up and browned. (My mom’s recipe doesn’t have a baking time listed; you just “keep an eye” on the oven.) Serve warm with ice cream and prepare for a little heaven on earth.
Reheats nicely too!

Enjoy!

Voice of wisdom

Quote of the day:

Love is friendship that has caught fire.
It is quiet understanding, sharing and forgiving.
It is loyalty through good times and bad times.
It settles for less than perfection
and makes allowances for human weaknesses.
Love is content with the present,
it hopes for the future,
and it does not brood over the past.
It’s the day-in and day-out chronicles
of irritations, problems, compromise,
small disappointments, big victories
and working toward common goals.
If you have love in your life, it can make up
for a great many things that are missing.
If you don’t have love in your life,
no matter what else there is,
it’s not enough.

~Ann Landers

(I knew Ann Landers was famous for her advice column. Turns out she was also a bit of a poet.)

Strawberries on my toast

Fresh strawberry jam, that is!

For all the lushness of Southeast Alaska…this is a rain forest you know…this is not a center for agriculture. Fishing, yes. Growing edible things, less so. The growing season for fruits and vegetables is shorter and significantly wetter than in other regions of the country. Some things seem to thrive. Raspberries, blueberries, huckleberries, salmonberries all do well here. I don’t know if any of the berries are native to this area, but if not, they’ve made themselves at home. There are berries all over and berry picking is a local sport this time of year.

Friends who live north of town have a real garden and enthusiastically grow a plethora of fruits and vegetables. They’re gifted with proverbial green thumbs, and are generous with their harvest. So when they asked if I would like to pick some strawberries, I accepted the offer and chose a day to drive the (gasp!) 12 miles out of Ketchikan to gather berries.

The strawberry plants came with the property, and I’m not sure my friends know what the variety is. The berries are small, with the largest ones being about the size of a red grape and the smaller ones about the size of a peanut. They don’t get much brighter in color than a dark pink, certainly not the brilliant red of market berries. But they are fragrant and sweet.

Tonight, I have fresh freezer jam cooling on my counter, with enough to share with friends and kids, and have plenty left for my Saturday breakfast toast (no bread for weekday breakfasts, carb watching).

First, I washed the berries:

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I measured about 7 cups of berries into a medium-sized pot. Then I added granulated sugar, about three cups, and a few drops of red food coloring to punch up the color. That’s it, no pectin or other ingredient. Fruit and sugar boil and eventually reduce to a thick jam. The cooking time is at least an hour, but there’s no set length of time until the jam is finished. You can continue to cook and concentrate the flavor and let the mixture thicken. As long as the heat is reduced to simmer, you can relax and quit stirring.

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When the jam is thick enough for you, pour into clean jars, or other small containers, and your kitchen project is complete. Remember to store the jam in the fridge once it’s cooled.

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Love that Kindle!

If you haven’t checked out Amazon’s free Kindle books, you’re missing out on real treasure…everything from classic novels and non-fiction to obscure how-to guides; from essays on religions and myths of ancient civilizations to philosophy and poetry; from naturalists’ and historians’ guides to children’s literature. There’s something for everyone, instantly down-loadable, free, and accessible through pretty much any digital device you can think of. Amazon offers free Kindle applications for PCs, Macs, phones, tablets, and of course, you can purchase the Kindle device if you prefer that route. Best of all, whatever you download will appear on any of your Kindle apps. Purchases update wirelessly, so no connecting of everything. It’s like magic.

Another fun thing I stumbled across, accessible through links on Kindle, is Open Library and other resources for free downloads, or for free lending services. See here. (Scroll down to see all the links.)

If books aren’t enough, this link offers access to archived internet pages.
Learn more.
Also here. Found this by following a digital path from Amazon. I love that this company shares this kind of information, and it’s just one of the many reasons I’m a huge Amazon fan.

I’ll never completely give up buying “real” books, because sometimes there is a book so beautiful, or so meaningful, that I have to have an actual printed version in hand. But with all the availability of digital downloads, and the wealth of free material, I can fill a lot of reading time catching up on classics I never got around to in school, or exploring obscure works that catch my interest.

Summer reading lists? In addition to the best sellers, you might want to see what you’ve been missing that is just slightly more dated…Amazon offers almost 16,000 free titles here and if that isn’t enough to keep you busy, there are lending library options that offer free access to books for a limited time before you “return” the book, all done digitally…don’t ask me how, I just follow the links and click.

Enjoy the exploration! It’s entertaining to browse the lists and links, and to accumulate a personal library that’s on hand any time you find yourself waiting in a line, vacationing at the beach, or having a restless night. With all the options, a good read is as easy to find as your laptop or phone. And all those titles you always meant to read? Well, what are you waiting for?!

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Life on the wild side

I had a week of training last week for a new position at work. It was intense, lots of information to absorb. But the good part of working for a hospital that’s part of a larger system is that another region has done the hard work, and all we have to do is follow their processes to be successful. At least I hope it’s that simple.

But the point of all this is that the woman who was here for the week to help with our process launch wanted to see a bit of Ketchikan, when work would allow. Fortunately we’re in the season of long evenings, so after work last Thursday, I took her to a spot south of town, Herring Cove, where salmon go to spawn and humans go to fish, and to watch black bears and eagles, who also go there to fish. I’d say the number of people fishing and those positioned with cameras are roughly equal. Some days you’re rewarded if you’re fishing, or out bear watching. Others, less so. You never know if you’ll be lucky or not. Last Thursday we were lucky, and this is what we saw:

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Thank you to Terry, for sharing her photos of mama and baby.