A day in the life

Yesterday we ended a month at one work site and began a week at another one. This is such a short stay it will fly by, and then we have a time out.

We started the morning with clean up. It’s my routine to leave the temp housing ready for the next guest, and I also leave a few things tucked behind for the next trip. There’s always a bit of sorting and tossing to do, and between packing and tidying, departure days start early.

The weather was a factor. We were scheduled to fly out via float plane, but the winds were too high, so we had a last-minute switch to the ferry. The tricky part is managing luggage between ferry and airport without a vehicle, when there are several errand stops between the two. We had to revise the plan. The only thing to do was drop the luggage at the airport first so we could navigate the stops without a struggle.

We had most of the day to spend in Ketchikan, the big city that offers a few more amenities than the small islands where we’re working. Hair cut, shopping, lunch, and mail pick up were all on the list.

Here’s where the frustration of the Ketchikan airport comes in. To drop off luggage for the afternoon flight we had to catch the airport ferry to a different island. (I’m always irritated that the airport is on a different island than the community. A five-minute crossing separates the two islands.) The ferry runs twice each hour, and everything is about timing. So we came off the state ferry like a small traveling circus, four roller bags, two back packs, and my purse, which this go-round is one of those large summer beach bags.

(Yes, my purse is really like a small child that travels with us. Can’t be left alone, is about the same size as a five-year-old, and has to have its own seat on the plane. I could store other small beings in it, it’s that roomy. You get the idea. :) )

With about 15 minutes to the next airport ferry run, we took a cab from the state ferry terminal down the street, made it to the airport ferry dock, crossed over, dropped the luggage off, and came back to the Ketchikan side. Thanks to the timing of the airport ferry, that only took an hour.

Then, because it was only raining lightly, we opted to walk.

If you’ve ever come to Ketchikan on a cruise, or just happened to wander there for some other reason, you’ll know that the main thoroughfare of the community is Tongass Avenue, which runs the length of the town and extends out to either end of the island. The stretch in town is probably between two and three miles, and we didn’t have to walk that whole way.

We had a strategic route to hit the four stops we needed to make and get back to the airport ferry in time for the 3:15.

First, we needed to pick up mail. At this point, there’s not a lot of mail that accumulates. We take advantage of all the online bill paying options and notifications available. But there’s always something in the box, and we check it anytime we’re in town. Occasionally we have mail forwarded, but at $20 a pop to have mail sent to us, when most of what collects is just the junk, it’s worth the stop if we’re passing through.

We got that done. There was a replacement debit card in the pile of catalogs, fliers, and otherwise very-important stuff, so worth the stop. Then it was on to the really critical stop: haircut and eyebrow waxing.

I love a good brow wax. When I started doing this for myself a few years ago, it was a fun little tack-on to my regular hair cut. Little did I know that it would come to be a necessity in time.

Have you ever tried to pluck your eyebrows wearing glasses?! I can’t do it with them on, and I certainly can’t do it without! Not that I need a lot done. But it’s nice to get that silky smooth feeling every few weeks, and know that someone with better vision than me is cleaning up my brow line.

Bear with me…I know this is a first world problem, but these are the little chores you have to think about when you spend a lot of time on small islands without some of the niceties of life readily available.

After the grooming session, I wanted to look for a new rain jacket.

If you know anything about SE Alaska, you know it’s rainforest. I know, that’s surprising. Rainforest isn’t usually associated with Alaska. But it’s so. Rain here is measured in feet, not inches. As in, Ketchikan gets an average of 13 feet of rain each year.

So rain gear is a good thing.

My last jacket’s been showing signs of wear, getting a little thin in spots, and I just found a rip in a seam. Time to replace.

In case you haven’t been shopping for rain gear lately, let me tell you, you can spend hundreds of dollars on a name brand. The most expensive (and ugliest) option I saw was a mere $500. I’m not kidding! It was hideous and outrageous. That’s a pretty good feat, for rain gear.

I looked at several brands…Columbia, North Face, some knock off labels, and wound up with a Helly Hansen jacket. It’s sort of a bright salmon color (appropriate: Ketchikan is the salmon capital of the world) and was a mere $100. A bargain among the other options, and I’ll be easy to spot half a continent away! :)

Then, on to lunch. When restaurant options are limited on the small islands where we work (that’s a generous way to express it) a lunch date is something to look forward to.

That’s one thing that island life does for you…you learn to appreciate so many things that are commonplace in the lower 48.

I appreciate road trips, and having my own car, variety of services and shopping, options of all kinds. Often, here, if there is one of anything…grocery or any type of store or service…there’s only one.

Of course it’s our choice to work in these environments, but still. Nice to have variety.

So lunch…crab cakes and king crab, smoked salmon chowder and yummy bread, a Marion berry buckle dessert, and a friendly waiter to fetch it all.

We left the restaurant with about half an hour to get back to the airport ferry for the run across to the airport. We didn’t make it too far before giving in to the faster option of a cab. Even without luggage we didn’t have time to walk it.

One more ferry ride, then check in with the small inter-island airline for the afternoon flight.

We made it to our next place by early evening, unpacked at the apartment, and squeezed in a grocery run for the week. Funny how the routines of home keeping follow you around, even in temporary lodging.

Epic? Grand adventure? Not really. But I learn, I discover, I savor.

Just another day in the life. The good stuff.

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Afternoon flight

Afternoon flight

One of Alaska's creepy crawlies

One of Alaska’s creepy crawlies

More Alaska

Last week, one evening after work, we found a new park. It shouldn’t be a surprise by now, but I’m still caught off guard every time I discover an unexpected jewel. This is what we saw:

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The totem poles are iconic for native Alaskan culture, particularly of the Southeast tribes. I see them in the Pacific Northwest too. Each one tells a story, and the individual carvings on the poles have meanings. Their stories are beyond my ability to interpret, but they’re fascinating to see. There are a few carvers today that create these works of art, celebrating heritage and culture from the past.

This has been a traveling week. It began Monday with all sorts of bumps and changes. Weather was an issue…foggy and rainy, so the planned float plane trip to the airport became a ferry ride.

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At the airport, the flight had a mechanical issue, so that meant a change to another airline.

There were two connections along the way, and the last leg was one of the near misses, walking off one flight and immediately on to the next.

But we made it. Luggage made it. We started early and ended late, but even with the glitches, it all smoothed out.

Just like I like it. I love it when life works out, even with lots of opportunity for disaster.

And let’s face it…a missed flight or delayed travel rarely rises to the level of disaster. But I speak of first world problems, in which case, descriptions of near misses in everyday situations are counted as near disasters.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll acknowledge that I know the difference. But for literary license, we skirted disaster all day and somehow came through with flying colors. Those airline folks are amazing!

I’ve been making more photos of Southeast Alaska this summer…do you get tired of them? I sometimes take for granted the views and sights that surround me. But they’re worth sharing, I think.

So this is my latest group of scenes. One day I’ll look back on this time and be surprised I was here, and saw all these things. One day this will seem surreal. But for now, these are the images of daily life.
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I’m doing a personal development course this coming week, beginning today, and one of the requirements is being off line. So, no cell phone use, no lap top. It makes me a little anxious to turn off, to be out of touch. What if something happens? What if someone needs me? Family has a contact number for the retreat center, and I expect the rest of the world will hardly notice I’m gone. Maybe as much as turning off and tuning out helps the individual to focus, it’s also a reminder…I’m one person, and the world can get along very well without me for a few days. I’m valuable, as all people are. But perspective is helpful, and a reminder that I’m not indispensable is a good thing, I’m thinking.

Wish me luck, I’m diving deep!

See you next week!

Happy birthday!

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Last week we got to fulfill a long-held dream of sailing a small boat in the Caribbean. It was a perfect way to celebrate Rob’s birthday, with sun, blue sky, bath-water ocean temps and amazing water colors. This morning we came back to Alaska to begin another stretch of work. But we have the photos to remind us we did it!

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OK, there was a real captain nearby, just outside of the photo. We got to take a few turns at the wheel, help with sail management, and learned a plethora of nautical terms. For instance, now I know what “tacking” and “three sheets to the wind” means, as well as a lot of other sailing terms. Very important to have these at the tip of my tongue when the situation warrants!

When we weren’t busy sailing, we did the tourist thing, island hopping and snorkeling, kayaking, soaking up sun. At night the lights from all the small island communities twinkle and give a festive feeling to the scene. Without a lot of light pollution, what lights are there really shine.

Oh, and we did a little eating. Just a wee bit!

The water is blue, turquoise, green, and every shade between. It’s magical and mesmerizing. I could sit and stare at the colors and the ocean life for hours at a time. Birds swoop down looking for food, fish jump, sea turtles swim by, and boats are everywhere.

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At night the stars are bold, and since they don’t have to compete with a lot of man-made lighting, they become more than they have been….they seem to put an extra level of effort into shining out in the darkness.

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We got a special treat while we were star-gazing. We saw the “Southern Cross,” a constellation that’s only visible from a few places in the northern hemisphere. You have to be in the tropics to see it from this hemisphere at all, and then it’s only visible at certain times of the year. Turns out May is the month for prime viewing, so we accidentally timed it perfectly.

The best part was the quiet time to explore, to sit on secluded beaches that dot the islands and enjoy the scenery, the beauty, the charm of a world so different, so far from our well-known paths.

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Happy birthday, Rob. I’m glad we shared the magic and the lights. We accidentally timed it perfectly!

How to find your iPhone, in 20 easy steps

I’m passing through SeaTac this afternoon…reminded me of this little adventure…just distant enough now I can recall it without a shudder…

So there I was, traveling down from Ketchikan to Seattle, December 19, just in time to celebrate Jack’s 2nd birthday the following day, and launch the round of Christmas festivities. It was all going so well…connections worked from Metlakatla to Ketchikan, and though I did get stuck in a middle seat on the flight, in spite of the premium price of the ticket, still…Christmas and birthdays and family…it was all good.

We even landed early.

That was really where the story began. We landed early. Stephanie had planned to pick me up, so I knew she would be waiting for my text saying I was on the ground. I thought I would just pop into the restroom before texting so she wouldn’t pull around to the arrivals level too early. I was holding my phone as the thought registered, and I set it down with my purse and backpack when I went into the restroom.

The stop I chose was the last restroom on the D concourse at SeaTac, the last one before you exit the secured area. Do you know that airport? I’m pretty familiar with it at this point, and I strolled out of the restroom, past the guard sitting by the big sign reminding passengers that they were re-entering the real and unsecured world.

Baggage claim is one floor down, and I was standing on the escalator heading down when I glanced at the pocket in my purse where my phone should have been.

In an instant, I knew where it was, the moment I saw where it wasn’t.

Let’s just say a bolt of electricity / adrenaline hit my body and I spun around like a crazy woman and began climbing the stairs of the escalator. I had checked my luggage, but I still had a purse, backpack, and a small gift bag, and the purse and backpack were heavy with all the things I never check…laptop and iPad, chargers and all the essentials you can’t do without if the luggage is lost. And I was wearing a polar fleece vest and my coat…I just came from Alaska, and it was December, so I was dressed for the weather.

Suddenly, I was overdressed.

I never sweat, but I felt like I had run a distance race, climbing up those stairs…why I did that I’ll never know, except all I could think was turning around and running back to the restroom where I hoped I would find my phone, hanging out on the shelf where I had left it just minutes before.

As I gained momentum and was almost at the top of the escalator, a man was waiting to step on, and said “Boy, that’s a great way to get your exercise!”

Barely pausing to answer, but absurdly feeling I owed this complete stranger an explanation for my bizarre behavior, I yelled, as I caught the last step, “I. Left. My. Phooooonnnne!” I didn’t look behind me to see if he was horrified for me or amused at me…I couldn’t stop now that I was off the steps.

I raced back to the exit point…the one with the guard…I panted out what had happened and hoped I was sufficiently pathetic to appeal to her sense of pity and humanity, but I couldn’t budge her. To be honest, I hadn’t thought that far ahead when I did my about-face on the escalator, I just knew I had to try to get back to the phone.

She sent me around the corner to the check-in desk for Alaska Airlines, since I had just come off an Alaska Air flight. I inserted myself into a line…if you knew me you would know only dire distress would ever cause me to do that…and I breathlessly told my story…by now feeling a little more desperate as the minutes since I had left the restroom ticked by.

Did I mention, this was a new iPhone 6, and it was in a case that had my driver’s license and the main credit card I use for everything? Perhaps you begin to appreciate my state of mind.

It wasn’t pretty.

The Alaska Air agent shepherded me over to a customer service agent, who began to inquire, halfway through my story…had I come off a flight or was I getting on a fight? I just stared at her, open mouthed, I’m sure…what difference did that make? And of course I just came off a flight…I had just come through the secured area…I stared in disbelief as she printed a new boarding pass for me, with the flight info for the flight I had just left…what good could that possibly do me now? And how did it relate to getting back to the restroom?

Well…there is no mercy in the TSA system, let me tell you!

Not only was there no one from the airline or TSA who would allow me to go back and look for my phone from this side of security…no one would do it for me. The only solution was for me to go back through the security screening and back to the restroom myself. But to get through the screening I needed a boarding pass.

The full horror of the scene burst upon me…they actually expected me to go back through the whole security process, with all my stuff in tow, and then walk back to the bathroom to look for my phone.

Did I mention this was a new iPhone 6? With my id and credit card???

I had the presence of mind to ask if I could at least leave my bags at the customer service desk to speed the process.

But no, there is no mercy at Alaska Airlines either. At least not in this situation.

So I hauled, shaking by this time, back to the security line.

Did I mention this was Dec 19?

The lines were full of happy people who had not left their phones on the other side of the secured Great Wall of China, and who were chatting, taking their time, and who had all, seemingly, brought every conceivable thing that would slow the whole process to the point of a crawl.

By the time I got to the agent checking id and boarding passes (fortunately I had a second state ID in my purse, since my license was with the phone) I was beginning to envision a scene…me causing a security incident as I waiting for the v e r y s l o o o w people in front of me to get through the line. I kept seeing the scene unfold on the evening news…”woman has meltdown at SeaTac over new iPhone.”

Well, it was very upsetting to me. But not worth going to security jail over…and anyway, by this time, I was at least 20 minutes out from the time I left it, so my hope of finding it was fading. But I couldn’t walk away without trying.

I spent the few minutes in the security line thinking through the process of replacing the phone, canceling the credit card, thinking of how I would get in touch with Stephanie…because of course I don’t know her cell number, or Matt’s cell number, or my son’s cell number…I was just solving that puzzle when I made it through the line, and I was able to do a sprint to the D concourse.

By this time I felt like I had run a marathon. I could have used a tranquilizer or a shot of something stiff, and if anyone had looked at me wrong I would have likely melted on the spot…you know that point when you feel like you can’t take one more person explaining why they can’t help you? I was in a fragile state and Just.One.Word would have sent me over the edge.

I walked into the restroom and saw a janitor there, and I asked her if she had seen a phone on the shelf.

She looked at me and said the most beautiful words.

“It was turned in to lost and found, down by baggage claim.”

Oh, I could have kissed her! But I kept it to a heartfelt and hurried “Thank you!” and raced out the door, headed down the same path I had just taken a half hour before.

I stood on the escalator steps, this time catching my breath and calming myself, thinking of Stephanie, realizing she must be wondering what had happened to me.

I walked over to the baggage carousels, and standing there waiting for me was Stephanie and Riley, Jack in his stroller, and Stephanie said, “Mom, I’ve got your phone.”

Well!

The story had been working on the other side. My phone had its own little adventure while I had been running around like a crazy woman. If only I had known I could have saved myself a lot of anxiety and a near melt down in the security line. I could have stopped off for a latte and just relaxed and waited it out. But noooo!

Well, that’s life…you can’t always see how things are sorting themselves out, and you have to do what you think is in your power to do.

So the story from Stephanie…

She was waiting with the kids in the cell phone lot, as is standard practice…saves getting the kids out and paying a parking fee, so she just drives up to the arrival doors when she gets the text that I have my bags.

She called my phone to see if I had landed, and she got an answer on the other end, just as she expected.

She didn’t miss a beat, until it suddenly registered…the voice she heard had an accent, and it wasn’t southern. She immediately asked who had the phone, and where they were.

At this point, Stephanie realized this was a situation that was going to require parking, so she got the kids out and came into the airport and stationed herself at baggage claim. Of course my bags had already come off the flight by this time. Alaska Airlines prides themselves on speedy bag delivery.

Turns out it was the janitor who found the phone and answered it. She was able to pass the phone off to an airport police officer, and he in turn gave it to Stephanie. So by the time I saw her, it was already recovered.

It took me the rest of the night to calm down. I kept hearing myself talk too fast and too loud…fortunately we had an hour drive to the house with the traffic, so I was a calmer version of myself by the time we got there.

And later, my only regret was that I didn’t get the name of the woman who found it. At a minimum I would have liked to have thanked her more profusely, and given her some type of reward for being honest and turning it in.

I know the others I encountered in that half hour were following the rules and protocol…at an intellectual level I understand what happened. But I still think there should be some other option…situations like mine probably occur often enough. Maybe they need to create a runner service at airports to go back and retrieve lost items…I would have paid someone to do that for me. Maybe some entrepreneur will set up a service desk opposite the guard post and offer to retrieve items left behind the secured barrier for a small fee. All I know is, when you’re already stressed, it doesn’t help to have to navigate security again.

The last couple of times I’ve traveled, I get this little reminder from Stephanie…

“Got your phone?”

Ah, that girl! She was my rescuer that night!

And yes, I have my phone. :)

And just in case you’re wondering…going up the down escalator actually is a great workout!

I’m on the ferry

I’m on the ferry, traveling from Ketchikan to Bellingham, WA. I’m bringing my car out; my car, which I bought new when we moved to Ketchikan in 2009.

My Subaru Tribeca has just over 14,000 miles on it.

Ah, the beauty of living on a small island! Well, the miles will add up quickly enough now.

As of Wednesday, I don’t live in Alaska. I’ll still be working there on a regular basis, part of each month. But I don’t live there any longer.

It’s a beautiful state, and I’ve learned so much during my years there. I’ve gained and I’ve lost. I’ve known joy and sorrow.

A lot of my reasons for moving my hub back to the lower 48 are about family. I want to be closer, and I want travel to be easier and less expensive.

I’m appreciative for the good that came out of my Alaska time, and regretful for the things that weren’t good. But to be fair, good and bad happens throughout life, regardless of location, and I don’t want to irrationally blame an entire state for the ups and downs I experienced there.

Still, I think my frontier adventures are more behind me than before me. The work that I’ll continue to do is very structured, and will likely be time limited.

Today I’m watching the water and mountains of the Inside Passage go by from the upper deck of a state ferry, and I’m thinking about so many things…people and amazing experiences that were part of life in Alaska.

Was it a good thing to move there in 2006? Or would I have been wiser to continue life in Colorado?

Impossible to know for sure…but I’ve learned that good things come and pass, and bad things come and pass…it is my task to keep my balance, to respond to events with love, grace, and calm, and to recognize that sometimes we are only seeing the middle of the story when it looks like we are seeing the end.

The choice is not to be passive; it is to be intentional and deliberate, to be responsive rather than reactive. There is a difference in the two.

One of the things I was challenged to do at the November meditation retreat is to be patient, just observe, and then do the right thing. That’s it. That’s all I can do, and even that I can only do as I have ability. I don’t always get the waiting right…and I don’t always make the right choice.

But that is the intention, and that’s where I find myself today. I don’t know how the next chapter will unfold. There is no definite decision as to next home or hub. For right now it is Seattle, partly by default and convenience. But that could change.

As I sit each day, practicing the art of meditation, I remind myself that this is part of the work of life…sitting with patience, giving events opportunity to develop, and then choosing a path.

Sitting on the ferry, watching the water flow past, I’m in the right place.

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:

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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

 

Country roads

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Rob and I are taking a breather. After a couple of months of intense work, we’re in sunny California setting up a new second home. Well, it’s a second home for us. Really it’s a new travel trailer. We said good-bye to the Class C RV the last time we were down, and now we’re adjusting to our new space.

We’ve been roaming the north/central part of California the last couple of years, slowly getting to know this region a bit. Sacramento is the big city hub, but we’re only there briefly, picking up a vehicle from storage and then leaving the hustle and bustle behind. No doubt about it, California has hustle.

But once you drive out of the city, into the countryside, you’re in a completely different world. And that’s the California I love. You leave the multiple-lane freeways and find yourself driving on two-way rural roads that probably look the same as they did 50 years ago. The houses you pass may be newer construction. But often, the barns and homes are old fashioned too. They’ve stood the test of time and weather, and look a little rugged, like some chiseled movie star from an old black and white film. They may be repurposed and give the small towns the quaint flavor of historic meets tourist. Or they may be falling down, remnants of a past century and past usefulness that won’t last many more years.

This is historic gold country (as in the ’49..that’s 1849… gold rush), farming and ranching country, dotted with wide spots in the road, all boasting some hole in the wall restaurant that’s probably a gem in disguise. The winding roads take you round hills and streams and seem to be going nowhere in particular. Nothing out here runs straight.

I’ve decided any road that takes me past rounded green hills, grazing cows and standing horses, vineyards and fruit orchards growing hot in the mid-day sun, old pick-ups and farm stands selling farm to table produce…take any road that runs past these delights, and I’m charmed.

I’m completely fascinated with the scale of it all. The landscape is amazing, the rolling hills spreading far to the horizon and a faint view of snowy mountains, barely visable to my eye. But the buildings that dot the land along side the two-lane roads, they’re scaled to human size. Nothing is big-box shaped, overwhelming, giant structures that make humans seem like ants in comparison. Everything in the country, except the land itself, seems tailored to people. I guess because when a lot of this land was settled, that’s who they were building for.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the convenience of big shopping and all that goes with it. There’s a place for that, I guess. But all in all, I’m still small town at heart. Maybe it’s in my veins, the way my mom and my grandmothers, and surely their mothers before them, all grew and lived in small communities with human-sized stores and buildings.

There were farmers among my ancestors, and maybe that old influence is why I love the sight of cows and the acres of fields we pass. I remember my dad could always identify the crops, and I wondered how he knew what was growing in the fields when he wasn’t a farmer. But he grew up with that heritage, and so he knew.

I am not a farmer, and I can’t always guess the type of crop in the field we’re passing. But I love it, and I identify (a little guiltily, feeling like I’m faking it) with the rural spirit of the region. I love to support the local markets, love to think I’m contributing to a family’s way of life, and an American heritage of growing food and making it, encouraging the little guys with their small farms. It’s a nod to our shared past, a nod to my parents, the road warriors of my youth, and an acknowledgement that for a lot of people, farming and rural living is still an everyday way of life.

So I’m enjoying the new trailer, and getting settled. But to be honest, I’m almost as excited to see the cows again.

Doesn’t seem romantic, really. Until you get out on those open roads. And then I know I’m home, honoring the American spirit, loving the freedom, the space, the independence.

Aaahh…

See you out there!

What do you find that’s charming on the road?

A visual feast

There are so many amazing photography sites, blogs, resources…I almost refrained from posting a link to this collection. But I couldn’t resist the beautiful and surprising and haunting images here. Any collection of photos featured by Smithsonianmag.com, the digital home of the Smithsonian Institution, is worth a look. Or two. This is the 11th Annual Photo Contest for the site, and readers are invited to select their favorites.

 

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Photograph by Stefano Coltelli (San Miniato, Italy). FINALIST: Travel |                                                                   Neist Point Lighthouse at dusk. (Isle of Skye, United Kingdom, August 2013,

View, enjoy, vote!

~ Sheila

Chooser

I often write about the challenges of life at my stage: empty-nester, part-time worker, full-time budding entrepreneur, wife, mom to young adults, grandparent, daughter, friend. The intent is to share the struggles and epiphanies I’m having with the hope of helping someone else who’s struggling too. I haven’t got it sorted out! Life is a work in progress, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m a slow learner, and a late bloomer. But here’s what I know today…

It’s good to be home! I know, it’s a common theme with me. Two weeks out of town for vacation and a family visit, and then two weeks working at the Metlakatla clinic, and I’m done. At least for the next three weeks. These are mine to enjoy at home.

Home is complicated right now. We have a house in Ketchikan, which I love, but we’re spending limited time here these days. Between time working in Metlakatla, and time out and about for personal reasons, days to putter around in my own little nest are hard to come by. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, most of my life has fit the norm…parenting, working, raising children, and though the location changed a few times throughout the years, the basic pattern was set.

A couple of years ago, Rob backed out of full-time practice with the promise to himself that he was done with that lifestyle. Too stressed, burned out, and exhausted to do full-time medicine any more. So now he works part-time, and for the moment, that’s in three different clinics in SE Alaska.

We tried the arrangement of me working in a full-time position and staying with the house, and him out and about, working, coming home, leaving again to work, coming home, leaving again…it was wearing, and lonely, and not what either of us signed up for. But for Rob, the variety is good. He enjoys moving about a bit. The change-up of the routine is good. And I’ll be honest, he’s not wedded to home and stuff as I am.

I like my stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money accumulating what I have. I love to putter about in the kitchen, using the gadgets and tools I have to try new dishes. I love pretty linens on the bed, comfy furnishing that have a look of warmth and tradition. I love the books on my shelves and the art on the walls. It all speaks to me, of people I love or a mood I want to evoke.

But that isn’t what comforts Rob. He’s a wanderer, and a nomad. Through much of our marriage he lived life in the traditional way, because that was the model we knew, and we were raising kids. But that’s changed, and with the empty nest has come new freedom. Freedom for both of us, in different ways. It has freed us financially, to some extent, and it has removed the need to keep a stable home base for growing children.

So now what? I’ve written about making the choice to leave my full-time work. It was two years ago in January. I’ve already lived a semi-nomadic life two years. Some of it has been amazing. Some of it has been fun. And there have been moments of weariness, times when I said, over and over in my mind, like a litany, “I just want my life back. I just want to go home.” Those moments have been few. But they have been part of the tapestry.

This week I said, as we sat over a late breakfast, looking out on the Tongass Narrows from our front windows, that it was good to be home. That I miss my things, that right now, I live a crazy life that keeps me on the run, and often somewhat adrift. Rob looked at me and asked, “Why is that?” I was in the process of answering when I got interrupted, and we never really finished the conversation. But I can finish it. I can give the answer.

I’m living a crazy life right now because I made a choice. I made a choice to match my lifestyle to what was working for my husband. He didn’t demand that I do it. He didn’t make it a requirement of the relationship in any way. I made the choice, and I’m committed to the choice because I realized, after trying to do it differently, it was all or nothing. I couldn’t keep a foot in both camps…happily married and living alone for weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for the relationship, and to be honest, I got almost no pleasure out of my things when I had them all to myself. Things do not replace people. And though I knew it in my head, it wasn’t until I found myself living that reality, that I knew it by heart.

If I learned anything about myself during the time that we lived mostly apart, it was that a lot of my pleasure in homekeeping and cooking comes from the relationships around me. If I’m cooking dinner for the two of us, or for a crowd, I enjoy every piece of it: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating. Even the cleanup is a validation of time well spent, and spent with loved ones. If I’m by myself, I have little-to-no interest in any of it. My enthusiasm dries up. I lost weight when we were living apart. I hated to go to the grocery store, because it wasn’t for anything fun…it was just for food. And what’s the fun in that? And pretty rooms? They just don’t mean much when you wander through them by yourself, trying to enjoy the never-disturbed perfection because there’s no one around to move anything out of its place.

Why am I saying all of this? Because it’s important for me to acknowledge…this crazy life I lead is by choice. I could be home every night, in my bed, eating at my own table. But that’s not the priority of my life. In a few weeks I’ll be in a different setting, camping in the RV again. I’ll have time to write; work on my baby business that’s slowly coming to life; I’ll do some work for the Met clinic via phone and email; and all of that will fit between the plans of the day that Rob and I make together. Because that is my priority. And how can I be ungrateful for that freedom in my life? If this time looks chaotic…if it seems like we’re always on the move…well, we are. It won’t last forever, I’m sure of that. There will be a time when we make different plans…when we move nearer family, and we settle again.

But for now, this is my choice, and claiming it, owning it, helps me avoid the victim mentality when I have one of those moments of just wanting to be home. I am not a victim or a martyr to Rob’s choices. I have made my own. It feels good to recognize: if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities that are on the horizon. I wouldn’t be in the process of developing a design for a logo and business card and a new web site. I wouldn’t be a budding entrepreneur at the ripe age of 53. I wouldn’t have the freedom to work from home, or from the RV. I wouldn’t have the flexibility to make my own commitments. And the reality is, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity and the financial stability to step out on this ledge.

And if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, and into my crazy life, I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing and doing the things that I seen and done in the past years, with the man I chose.

Life is complicated. But it helps if you know that you’re where you are by choice. So I’m a chooser. I’ve learned to choose love over things, experience over money, and freedom over security. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be traditional to be normal; that you can walk a different path and still get where you need to go. And I’ve learned that although head knowledge is good, there’s no replacement for understanding something from the heart. Because the heart gets final say; and if my choice has passed the heart test, I’m on the right path.

Dinner for two…