Camping

We are in camping mode.

We used to tent camp/car camp when our kids were with us. We had some great times doing that. But when we decided to spend some extended time traveling, Rob wanted to go the RV route. I think it’s the boy scout in him…the fixer…you’re always fixing things on an RV…who loves a challenge. Some people buy boats or get into hunting or fishing. We own an RV. Or more correctly, our RV owns us, at least when we’re using it for travel.

We have a fridge and freezer in the RV, but we keep an ice chest going too, so we monitor ice. We monitor water levels, grey water and black water (if you don’t know these terms, use your imagination.) We monitor how much fresh water we have, if we’re not connected to water at a campsite. For the uninitiated, there are all sorts of campsites. You can have full hookups, which can include everything from water, sewer, electricity, up to cable and internet. Or you can do just water and electricity, or you can camp without any hookups at all, as long as you have enough water to supply your own needs. The generator runs off gas, so you can turn it on to supply electricity needs. The stove and oven operate off propane.

For purists out there who think this is all faux camping, let me just say: you’re right! No backpacking in over miles of trail for us, and no freeze-dried meals either. I’m sorry, the camping gene just barely made it on board, this is the best I can do. Well, I once could do tent camping, in my former life, but now I’m spoiled to being a turtle and having my portable house with me. I’ve done a pretty good job. I have my Bialetti coffee maker, my cutting board, some favorite knives, a pillow top mattress on the bed, and candles to go with dinner…among a few other comforts. Yes, part of the fun is re-creating a homey environment. But…in national park settings! How cool is that?!

One of the good things about owning vs renting an RV is that over time, we’ve stocked it with a lot of the essentials, like citrus reamers and beach towels…you know, the really important stuff! So when we take it out, we only need groceries and gas and we can be ready to go…providing it’s not been sitting for a year and needs new batteries…but that was yesterday’s post. Anyway, it can be pretty simple to launch.

The hardest part is remembering from visit to visit if we’ve left something in the RV for future use, or if we need to bring something on the next trip. I always think I’ll remember, and I never do. I sometimes make lists, but invariably, if I can’t find something at home, I begin to wonder, did I leave that in the RV? Or, the other question, do I need this for the RV? I’m finding, over time, that it’s easy to have duplicates of a lot of small items. Because if, for example, you find a kitchen gadget that you like for your home, you begin to think, “I could really use this in the RV!” Whether or not that’s true, that’s what you think. Because of course, camping wouldn’t be quite right without the gourmet tools you’ve come to know and love, would it?

Sometimes I just have to stop myself and repeat: We are in camping mode.

                                               Home sweet home!

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Hot!!

Hmmm…was it only a couple of weeks ago I was complaining about being chilly in July? Well, change of states, change of complaints! Let me tell you, Arizona and Nevada, which we’ve just driven through, are ovens! Not that this is a news flash to anyone…I just forget the impact of this heat until I’m experiencing it again.

We flew down to Phoenix last week and shuttled to Prescott, where the RV and Rob’s little pick-up have been stored. After almost a year of sitting, there were a few things to take care of. In spite of our best efforts to leave both vehicles travel ready…we even left solar panels plugged in to the batteries to keep those charged…we had two days of maintenance to deal with. Turned out that the RV batteries and the truck battery had to be replaced, and we had some other minor repairs. Got the oil changed in both vehicles, and made a run to the grocery. This is a house on wheels, you know, so it has to be stocked.

We have a class C RV, which Rob drives…I think I’ve driven a total of about 10 miles, on a straight stretch, and that will be my first and last…I’ve told him if anything happens to him, the RV is a goner…I won’t be driving myself around the country, thank you very much! I’m driving the little pick-up. These vehicles traveled down from Alaska separately, and we’ve never traveled extensively using them together. After taking a good look at the cost to add a towing package to the RV and the truck, we decided it is more practical to caravan. Not ideal, but worth it to have a separate vehicle for exploring when the RV is set up at a campsite.

So…we are driving, in July, through the desert Southwest. Our goal is northern California, southern Oregon. We want to do some exploring in those regions. But first, we have to get there. As long as we are driving with the AC on, there is the illusion that the weather is pleasant, the sun is just a nice accent to the day. But stop for a few moments, get out and feel the absolute roasting heat and the almost physical impact of the sun, and I wonder, again, how anyone managed to settle this country. How does anyone who has to work outdoors do it? Is there anyone who lives here without air conditioning? And if so, how?  I have a pretty high tolerance for heat, and I rarely sweat. Let’s just say in this heat I need a little more antiperspirant than usual. So if I’m feeling it, I know it’s bad.

Hoover Dam Overlook, Nevada

The views are spectacular. The terrain varies so much…it’s mostly desert, but there are stretches that have more vegetation, more mountains. There are areas that look like moonscape. But it’s all big, huge, massive. No doubt about it, this is an astonishing land. Photos don’t do it justice, not by a long shot.

Driving through, I’m filled with admiration. Sometimes for the scenery, but mostly for the people who made it here. I always come back to the same thought: I would have been a failure as a pioneer. I would have been a cautionary tale with a marker along the wagon trail.

But there were obviously many people who were successful, and it is thanks to them that we can drive through now and find roads, restaurants, gas stations (although there are some stretches that have signs posted…the next gas is 70 miles, 100 miles, etc.). On one lonely stretch in Nevada, we missed a turn and had to decide…go on to the next opportunity for gas, or turn around and try to get back to the last one? I was beginning to see the buzzards circling…And this was in an area that my phone discouragingly said “no service.” Hard to believe there are places where cell phones don’t work, in 2012!

Happily for us, we made it to the next town, the next gas. No need for dramatic rescue. But it does make you realize the heat and isolation are real, and not to be taken lightly.

I had a similar epiphany when we lived in the Arctic…amazing that people survived, and even flourished. I have talents, but I don’t think mine extend to outsmarting the cold, or the heat. So I’m just grateful to have come along at a time when these challenges were already conquered, and be thankful for heaters in Alaska, and in the desert, thrilled to have air conditioning.

Mono Lake, Lee Vining, CA

Bright lights, big city

The first stop of our trip was Seattle. That’s required when you leave Ketchikan. Alaska Airlines is the only carrier that flies from Ketchikan to the lower 48, and all flights stop in Seattle…sort of like all roads lead to Rome.

In our case, it works out nicely since our daughter lives there, and it gives us an automatic opportunity to connect with her family. Well, ok, the star of the show is Riley, but that’s just the way it is…no offense to the adults in the world. Give me a two year old any day!

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While we were there, we took in a ball game…Seattle Mariners vs the Texas Rangers, at Safeco Field.

20120722-111446.jpg Guess who won? I hear the Mariners are having a bad year, and this game didn’t help. Didn’t score one run! Lucky for us we were there more for the ambience and experience. There’s just something about a baseball game on a nice summer afternoon…always makes me hungry for a brat! We haven’t gone to a professional game since we lived in Colorado, and occasionally made it to see the Rockies play. Weather cooperated, Riley cooperated, and we got to enjoy the whole show. Did the 7th inning stretch, got popcorn, chocolate dipped fruit, and ice cream, and enjoyed a little people watching.

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Our other big event was a trip to the Space Needle for dinner. But this wasn’t just a dinnner…it was a 30th birthday celebration for our son-in-law, Matt, along with his parents.

20120722-111840.jpg It was a perfect place for the celebration. The views are amazing…the outer ring of the restaurant revolves, so you get a view of the city and the Puget Sound as you eat, and the mechanism is so smooth, you don’t even feel the movement. You just watch the views change. And the food was pretty good too.

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After dinner we went up to the observation deck and got a few more photos. This is the 50th anniversary of the building of the Space Needle. It was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair that was held that year in Seattle. It is the city’s iconic landmark, and it’s fun to experience the retro feel of the structure itself…sort of a step back in time/step into the future thing.

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Seattle is a fun place to visit, and I feel fortunate to have a connection there. I’ve learned that as a parent of adult children, where your children live, a piece of you lives. It’s not about owning a home there…it’s about a part of your heart belonging there.

There’s only one thing that I don’t like, and that’s the traffic. I’m reminded that there is a price to pay for all the lovely attractions and shopping opportunities so conveniently clustered together. Thank goodness, we don’t have to drive when we visit. We’re along for the ride, and our daughter or son-in-law does the heavy lifting with regard to navigating the big city bustle.

Well, on to the next!

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And we’re off!

Let the summer begin!

It really did begin this week here in SE Alaska. Ketchikan has been mostly sunny, even warm, the past several days. I’m happy to report that my heat is off and my sandals are on! Of course it won’t last…this is a rainforest, you know…but we got enough of a break this week that doors to businesses stood open letting in cool air. My front bannister and stoop were painted, my hedge trimmed, gutters cleaned…it was outdoor work weather for a change! And for the first time in months, I didn’t want a blanket on my bed.

Tomorrow we leave for what I’m affectionately calling our “summer ramble.” This is partly an exploratory trip, partly a relocation for the RV, and we’ll get in some family time too. But mostly it is recovery time, and planning time. Working in bursts as we have been doing tends to be somewhat draining. The work is good, and of course we need income, so thank God we are able to work. But you do feel a bit like you’ve run a marathon when your work life becomes condensed. Working 40 hours a week for one organization, and doing projects in between for another one leaves me feeling pooped. It was good, all good. Energizing, busy, productive…but now I’m done, for another glorious stretch.

This time will fly by, I know. But I’m going to try to savor it, slow it down, not plan it all away. We already have some dates marked on the calendar. I want to protect the rest of the time and see what develops…see where we roam, see what we come up with. That’s really the best part of down time…the serendipity of deciding what to do, a day at a time, or an hour at a time.

We plan to resurrect our camping skills. And we need to strategize a bit. We’re making life up as we go, and we need to map out the coming months. Working episodically gives a lot of freedom. But it also limits income, and you have to balance both needs…need for down time and flexibility, and the need for income.

So we’ll talk, and plan, and recover. And then magically, the days and weeks will evaporate and we’ll be back, working again. That’s good too. But before I get ahead of myself, I have to take a few minutes to enjoy the thought…we’re off tomorrow…let the summer begin!

Sister by heart

This is a double duty post. Today I’m wishing my sister-in-law…well, I should just drop the “in-law” part…a wonderful happy birthday. JeannaLynn is my sister, a sister by the gift of marriage, and a sister of my heart.

And that brings me to the second thing I want to share with her: gratitude. Not for the first time, but for the first time in a public way, I have to thank her for saving my marriage last year. That sounds dramatic, and I am not a drama queen. But that is the truth. A few others who knew we were in distress were helpful, loving, concerned. But it was JeannaLynn who stepped in and did the thing I could not do for myself. She rescued me, and us. And I am forever grateful.

How do you thank someone who does that for you?

You thank them from a depth of gratitude you didn’t know you possessed. You thank them privately. You thank them publicly. You thank them with a humble heart.

All of these things I feel, and all of them I want to share.

The details are not important, and in any case, they are a private matter. The rescue, and the outcome, are the important points of my story. But it isn’t even my story, in particular, that is important. The important thing is acknowledging that this woman is making a difference. She, along with her husband, is counseling, ministering, saving, and bringing relief to couples who have found themselves on the brink: the brink of despair, the brink of divorce.

She speaks as one who knows. JeannaLynn had her own struggles with her marriage. She has known the depths. She’s done the hard work to change her own story, and she understands what it takes to maintain the victory. It is hard-won, and all the clichés that you regularly hear apply: you can’t take it for granted; you have to work at it every day; no relationship is immune from the toll of stress and life challenges.

JeannaLynn is a nurse, and for many years has focused on the area of obstetrics. For several years now she has taught childbirth classes at a local hospital, combining the roles of caregiver, mentor, teacher, and surrogate parent to the women who attend her sessions.

A few years ago, she decided to become a Life Coach, and she’s completed the coursework and testing to become a certified provider of coaching services. That dovetailed nicely with the work that has become her passion. Married to a minister, over the years JeannaLynn and Richard, her husband, had developed a marriage counseling ministry, working with church members who were in crisis in their relationships. A couple of years ago, they decided to do counseling full-time, and the rest, as they say, is history.

JeannaLynn and Richard work as a team, and they have been so effective in their ministry that they have a growing list of clients whose lives have been forever changed, and changed for the better, by their efforts. They step into lives and listen, teach coping skills, teach respect and value and honor. They are friends to marriages, not taking sides, but supporting both spouses in moments of turmoil. They share their story, acknowledging that relationships take tremendous energy, commitment, and focus. They also encourage couples to find the fun again, to prioritize each other, to understand that it is not easy to stay together. But it can be so rewarding, beyond belief.

In our situation, it was our unique relationship with JeannaLynn that made our progress possible. She knew us, knew our story, and was able, without taking sides or expressing judgment, to encourage, instruct, and be with us through the refining fire. She physically came to our house and spent several days, patiently listening, passionately lobbying us to see the big picture, to see each other with different eyes, to be true to ourselves, and to recognize that we could do that and hold on to the good that was between us.

We allowed her in. But she was willing to come in, and she did it with grace and honesty, with courage and respect.

Last year we were lost, and she helped us to find each other.

On the surface, we don’t look very different. But when you’ve been lost, and now you’re found, you sing in your heart. You appreciate differently. The smallest things are joys again. Old is new, and what was hard is soft.

Once I took a lot for granted. Now I take nothing for granted. I am humbled to think that I have another chance at happiness, and another chance to get it right. And for all the work that I have put into this renewal, and for all that Rob has done, I know who is at the heart of this opportunity. Thank you, JeannaLynn, from the bottom of my heart. And may this birthday be the beginning of another year of blessings, impact, and excitement as you witness the daily miracles of lives changed and hearts rescued.

JeannaLynn and Richard can be contacted at WGHJ

~M

I have a friend named Michele. I met her when we moved to Ketchikan and I took a job with PeaceHealth, joining the medical group in a support role for the team. Michele was my immediate supervisor and manager, and has become a mentor.

New to a community, an organization, and my position, I had a lot to learn. Michele had moved to Ketchikan just the year before, and was also adjusting to rainy Southeast Alaska, and finding her way with the medical group too. As we worked together, we would sometimes compare notes about our past lives, how we perceived this corner of Alaska, and our likes and dislikes. We sometimes sat, after a work meeting at the end of the day, and just talked, becoming friends as well as co-workers.

Michele is the opposite of me in many ways. She is tall and elegant, a smart dresser, who often adds a bold splash of color to her look with a signature scarf. She is a woman of city life whose path has brought her to rural Alaska. She’s a regional vice-president in a health-care organization. She’s a hiker, a rock-climber, and a humanitarian. She loves jewelry, and wears it well. She’s generous with her time and money, supporting children in Africa; but even more generously, has made numerous trips to third world locations as part of a team to build homes, schools, and lives. Her office is tastefully decorated with framed photographs of children she’s met on her journeys, her own portraits of people she’s touched. They are reminders, in a way, anchors, contrasting the world she lives in, and the world she sometimes visits.

We are alike in some ways. We are both directionally challenged. If we drive to an unfamiliar location together, we’re likely to have a bit of an adventure finding our destination. We love to shop. We love to eat. We love sweets. We love pretty things, clear glass, kitchen gadgets. We wear high heels and a lot of black. We love Pandora charms, and sometimes make a detour, after treating ourselves to a rare lunch out of the office, to check the latest arrivals at the local jeweler’s.

We’ve attended some local productions and charity events together. A few times we’ve hauled spouse and significant other with us. But often these are too foo-foo for the men in our lives. We have a chance for the occasional girls’ night out that invariably gives us stories for the next day, and likely, the day after that. We’ve braved howling winds and downpours for evening corporate dinners, bought the wrong smoked salmon at an auction, giggled through a community production, two fifty-somethings slipping into schoolgirl mode for a few moments.

Michele is a story-teller. With gentle self-deprecation and an animated and lively way with words, she makes people and events come to life. She shares stories from her childhood, of her grandparents who largely raised her, her college days, her long-time girlfriends who have become family. She draws on her work life, past relationships, and most of all, her own sense of the ridiculous. She’s a serious business woman, but often lightens work meetings with humor. She loves a good laugh, a good punch line, and she never minds sharing, even if the joke is on her.

Michele is an advocate. She is a bridge between a corporate world that is coming of age, and a medical community that is feeling its age. She pleads each group’s case to the other. She stands in the gap. She is often appreciated, but sometimes not. Her job is not entirely thankless. But it is stressful, demanding, challenging. Health care in 2012 is not a profession for the faint of heart.

She can confront when she needs to, but she doesn’t seek confrontation. She asks rather than tells, in general. She is gracious, respectful of others. But she’s tough too. She’s taught me a bit about standing up, facing something difficult head on, with kindness, but with firmness. Hard for me, when my default setting is “yes.” Oh, I have integrity, but I also avoid conflict. She calls me on it, and has helped me recognize the position of strength I want to adopt. She stands firm, not in a belligerent manner, but with a steadiness of character that is grounding, reassuring.

Michele knows how to be a friend. There is a quality of sisterhood to our relationship. We share pieces of ourselves, insights about life, love, choices. She has seen me through some difficult moments, and has allowed me inside a few of hers. Often, we just talk. About finding our way, about recognizing the good, about perspective. About balance. About doing the right thing, and for the right reasons.

Twice she has helped me see clearly when I had lost my way. I’m not often at a loss. But on these occasions, when I needed clarity and perspective, I found the beginnings through her. It was Michele’s suggestion that I stay with PeaceHealth in a relief capacity, when I thought there was no other option but some level of employment.  And it was Michele’s sharing of her own past struggles that allowed me to see some of my personal issues through different eyes.

I like to think I repay, in my own way. I mother a bit. I bake. I’m about comfort, and caring. I listen. I encourage. But it is all a two way street, and maybe that’s the reason our friendship has flourished. We each have something to give, and we are each able to receive.

Michele’s presence in my life has been an unexpected gift. If I met her on the street, I wouldn’t guess we would find connection. She has a career, I’ve had jobs. She has had a life of adventure, I’ve had a life built more on marriage and motherhood than any other element. She is fearless, I am not. But I think what drew us together was a bit of a kindred spirit. We are of similar ages, and we share common values. Above all, besides a killer sense of humor, I’m drawn to Michele because she cares, and she cares passionately. She cares enough to risk. She approaches her job and her life with integrity. She inspires me, and she pushes me. She is my friend, and I am hers.

[I'm leaving the position that has allowed me to work closely again with Michele. My relief stint is coming to a close. I'll be back in Ketchikan in the fall, after our summer ramble, and hope that there will be something for me to do with PeaceHealth...but that's uncertain, and the risk I take for choosing to work in a relief capacity. Regardless of future opportunities, I've been fortunate to find friendship in my work environment. Thank you, Michele!]

Happy 4th of July!

Happy Birthday, America! Land of the free, because of the brave, and land that I love…amazing, feisty, diverse, mythical, broad and wide, beautiful, breath-taking…a country like no other. Of course, all countries can make that claim. Each is like no other. Each is unique, and each has positives and negatives. America is no different. But it is an amazing land, physically, and still a wonderful experiment in freedom and the exercise of self-governance.

I’m a bit of a history buff, albeit very selective in my interests. One of the periods that I especially love is the era of colonial America. That is a fascinating time in history, not only because of the events that occurred that most Americans are familiar with…the Revolutionary War, the political struggle for freedom, the establishment of a new nation…but also because as you learn about the everyday lives of people, you realize…they were really very much like us, in many ways. Except in all the ways they were so different. There’s a line in the movie “National Treasure,” when Nicolas Cage is quoting from the Declaration of Independence, and he concludes by saying that “people don’t talk that way any more.” Read the writings of the founding fathers, or other authors of that time, and you have to agree. People don’t talk that way any more. Those were serious men and women, and they lived through serious and perilous times. They used language in a way that most modern Americans could not even follow, and somehow, with all the odds in the world against them, claimed their independence and birthed a new age. Quite a feat.

One of my favorite movies is the musical 1776. Some of the music is a little hokey, but beyond the comic moments is a moving story of vision, division, loyalty, achievement and heroism. And watching it, I’m reminded that something we take for granted was really a miracle, on every level.

Happy parades, fireworks, hotdogs, apple pie! I’ll be enjoying a small town parade today, and seeing fireworks. And maybe sometime in the next few hours, on this middle-of-the-week holiday, I’ll pull out my dvd and remember how it all started. I’ll remember that the Declaration is more than just a historical document, that the Founding Fathers were real people with real disagreements and lives in the balance. And I’ll appreciate something that I rarely stop to think of: that I am free, and my freedom was inherited from people who lived centuries ago. But their gift is still giving, and Americans today are still the fortunate recipients of their gift.

My heat is on!

What is wrong with this picture?! It is July 1, and my heat is on! Oh, we’ve had some beautiful sunny warm days already. But they don’t last. You get a taste of summer, convince yourself tomorrow will be just as nice. And then, just like that, you go from July back to March or April. Just when I think I’m finally going to wear something “summery” more than one day at a time, the sun disappears and the jackets reappear.

And worst of all, the summer months that should give me a break from paying a fuel oil bill are likely to be little better than the rest of the year. And how do you know the fuel oil tanker has topped off your fuel oil? You come home to find a little love note on your door…a small ticket printed with the amount of fuel you got, and the total you owe. Let me tell you, I dread seeing those notes on my door. Every other month or so, I get a five or six hundred dollar happy when the fuel truck visits. Ouch!

Of course, part of the problem is that I’m in Southeast Alaska. I seem to fret about weather a lot. But you just can’t fathom how the weather impacts you, until the season you’re waiting for fails to appear. Or appears only in fits and starts…you can’t get a rhythm going, can’t forecast a cookout for the weekend, even if Tuesday is beautiful. Because by Saturday, you may want hot chocolate.

I’ve experienced the opposite problem…I know there are plenty of places where you run an air conditioner eight or nine months of the year. I’ve been in Palm Springs in July when even I (a lizard at heart who would like to spend significant time sunning on a rock) could barely walk from mister to mister in the shopping district without collapsing. Now that’s hot!  But at least you know what you’re getting. Those climates are much more consistent. I’ve had a painter lined up to do some work on the exterior of my house for six weeks, and he can’t get three days in a row that are dry enough to work!

I don’t like air conditioning…but living with temps in the 50s is not much fun either.

Well…I’m trying to re-direct myself….let’s see…

Ok, the humidity is good for my skin. And this is magical humidity that doesn’t feel humid, so that’s a big plus.

The rain and cool temps are great for many growing things…this island is as green as Ireland…indeed, we are an emerald isle, though I’ve never heard that term applied. But green is everywhere, and the foliage is lush.

I think this must be a good climate for fish. Fish are everywhere. These waters are teeming with salmon and halibut, among many other species.

I don’t have to pay for air conditioning. Don’t even have an air conditioner. The air conditioner in my car has been on half a dozen times in three and a half years of living here.

That’s it…I can’t think of anything else positive about the climate here. Did my best. Right now I just want warm, dry, and sunny! Wish I could send all this rain and cool temps to Colorado and the other states that are on fire. Feast or famine, that’s life!