Lost and found: a year of discovery and recovery

It’s been a year this week since we sold the house in Ketchikan and vaulted into a nomadic life. For the past year I’ve lived out of two Eddie Bauer roller bag suitcases, supplemented with seasonal changes of wardrobe from my storage unit, and a few items stashed in my daughter’s spare room closet.

I haul a few favorite kitchen knives with me, good sheets (I’m picky about knives and sheets) and enough clothes to get through a couple of weeks.

I’m also creating a traveling “junk drawer” in one of the zipper pockets of my larger suitcase. Even when you’re mobile, you need a place to put extra buttons or receipts or the odd items that you don’t want to throw away but don’t need in your purse.

I tell people we’re homeless, but that’s just in fun. We’re really transitory, working and staying in temporary duty apartments during work stays. Between commitments we spend a few days with family or friends, or traveling. So far I don’t think we’ve out-stayed our welcome anywhere (but maybe I should ask my son-in-law to be sure about that :) ).

In the past year we’ve attended a 10 day meditation retreat and a week-long event that focused on resolving issues from the past. I’ve launched two Kindle books and have another one ready to list. I’ve reduced my household possessions to a one-car garage-size storage unit. I’m working with a web design firm to create a new site. We’ve traveled to the Caribbean and cross-country from Texas to Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Colorado, California, Oregon, and of course, Washington (home of the Littles).

It’s been quite a year.

I didn’t see it coming when it began.

It’s been like the classic line from Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times.

Thanks to many forces at work in my life, thank God it’s ending in the right way, with the best of times.

And if we’re not settled yet, after a year of working and roaming, I’m content enough, without an immediate need for a nest under my wings.

The past weeks, working in SE Alaska, life has come full circle, come back to serenity, and to joy.

I’ve learned, once again, that the important things in life aren’t things. That happiness is elusive…when you look for it, it’s often difficult to find. But when you stop chasing it, it appears, seemingly out of nowhere.

Who would guess that I could be happy without my home, my nest all neat and feathered? Or that not knowing the future and how it will look wouldn’t rattle me?

I’ve learned to always hope. Always hope.

You don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward.

I’ve learned that whatever is going on in life, there are always forces at work, shaping events and others’ choices in ways that will impact, and in ways that I can’t imagine, can’t see. Life is never all in our control, so I shouldn’t be surprised when there are twists and turns I don’t foresee.

Often I’m still caught off guard, though, even though I think I’ve absorbed this lesson well. Sometimes it works for me, and sometimes against me.

I’ve learned that gratitude, and doing the right thing as far as I’m able, cures most of life’s angst.

I’ve learned, again, that life doesn’t have to be perfect, or anything near that mark, to be wonderful.

One of these days, we’ll be re-settled, and life will look more “normal.” Or so I assume.

But in the meantime, it’s enough that I catch myself singing, and smiling, and feeling a spring in my step. After a year of frequent wandering in the wilderness, these are welcome signs of renewal.

Spring in October? Well, in SE Alaska that seems unlikely. But spring in my heart?

Yes. Just yes!

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.



Afternoon flight

Afternoon flight

One of Alaska's creepy crawlies

One of Alaska’s creepy crawlies

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.”


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.

“Come out of your miseries!”

“Come out of your miseries!” This is the calling of the meditation retreat I attended.

Did it work? Did it help? Yes. I don’t know. Yes. I don’t know.

First, let me say that it was an amazing experience. To keep silence for nine days, and sit still for many hours of each day in a group effort was unique, of course. The things I thought I would struggle with were easy, and the things that I expected to be easy were surprisingly difficult.

The retreat was held in a rural camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a short distance from Yosemite Park. Imagine a kid’s summer camp, only one with no swimming, no arts and crafts, no team competitions. The men and women attending the event were housed separately, ate separately, and only saw each other at group sittings, three times a day, and during the evening program. The silence began on the first evening and lasted until mid-way through the ninth day. Then the silence was lifted so we could discuss joint clean up efforts and end-of-event logistics.

The silence was easy. The sitting was hard.

When I thought about group silence, I thought about it in the context of how it is to be silent in normal life. When you’re silent in a crowd, you either feel anti-social, or a sense of loneliness. But in this setting, because we had all agreed to be silent and to maintain that at all times…no chatting except to ask questions, very softly, of the staff…it didn’t feel awkward at all. In fact, on the ninth day when we could speak and the atmosphere was full of voices, I missed the quiet. It felt like something precious had been lost.

The schedule was rigorous, up at 4:00 am and meditating by 4:30. Breakfast break at 6:30, with the first group sitting from 8:00 to 9:00. There were additional meditation hours when you could choose to meditate in your room or in the hall, and a lunch break, then a rest time between noon and 1:00.

At 1:00 there was another period of private meditation, followed by another group sitting from 2:30 to 3:30. We had a simple tea at 5:00, just fruit and hot tea or beverage of choice (no carbonation though). The evening sitting began at 6:00, followed by an evening “discourse” on the techniques and the philosophy behind them. There was another short sitting after the discourse, and then lights out by 9:30.

I can’t do justice to the whole event in a blog post, so I’m not going to try. I’m going to write a book about it, sharing the details of the days and some of my personal struggles that prompted me to attend.

It was powerful. I can’t claim to have perfected the meditation technique, and I’ll also be honest to say that I think the silence and being disconnected from the electronic world (another thing I thought would be hard, but was surprisingly easy) were as important as the actual meditation for me.

The sitting was hard. We sat in rows, eight across and eight deep, everyone sitting on large foam cushions, piled with more cushions, bean bags, some using special little wooden stools, or even stadium chairs to give better back support. It was still hard. For the group sittings we were asked to maintain our positions without movement if at all possible: these were called “Sittings of Strong Determination.” The first few minutes of sitting still were not difficult, but it’s amazing how you begin to stiffen even in a short period of time, or how you begin to feel an itch or tickle or some other distraction of sensation.

The whole point was that we were learning to observe our respiration and physical sensations and to recognize: this too shall pass. The idea is that you retrain your mind to not react to the sensations you feel…you keep a calm and balanced mind as you sit and ignore the impulse to move or scratch a tickle. I sneezed twice and had to wipe my nose…couldn’t help those movements.

We used no mantras, no visualization…just silence and our bodies. As the hours of group sittings went by, you could hear soft creaking noises as people tried to shift ever so slightly to relieve their positions, without a real motion of movement. You would hear coughs or throat clearings, and occasionally someone would get up and leave…you could hear footsteps and then the door to the entry area open and close.

But for the most part we sat. We sat and sat and sat.

And between sittings, (sittings themselves were not supposed to be a time to think about your miseries, or your life issues, or the big questions, just focus on your breathing and sensations). Between sittings and the times of private meditation, I did think.

The process is supposed to help you master your mind and purify your mind. The whole program is based on a universal code of morality and goodwill and compassion toward everyone. If it sounds hokey, it wasn’t. If it sounds simple, it certainly wasn’t.

But neither was it difficult.

It was a rich experience of clarity and creativity, and I found that surprising, though I’m not sure why. I think it is that I had no idea silence and sitting could be so powerful.

Am I glad I participated? Yes! I don’t know if I would do that same event again, but it has made me curious about other events of this nature. I learned that there are many different styles of meditation, so I assume there are other resources for learning and experiencing.

One of the things I came away with was the realization that although I regularly read and have a quiet time of reflection, I have never had a set time or a disciplined approach to my quiet time. Meditation is not something you do between reading emails or getting a second cup of coffee. This made me want to be more intentional and deliberate about my quiet time, choosing a time of day to sit and focus, and creating a goal of being disciplined about keeping that routine.

I’ll have more to say I’m sure…after nine days of silence, I feel words pouring out of me! But for now, that’s the quick version. I need to have some time to sort out some of what I learned, some of what I thought, and some of what I hope to gain.

And hey…even though I didn’t work out once during that time, missing my cream in my daily coffee and eating only fruit at night was a pretty good diet! Though the scheduling was pure coincidence, I think I’m in pretty good shape to head into Thanksgiving. Well, that’s one immediate benefit, to say nothing of the ones to come as I make sense of the whole experience.

More to come!

~ Sheila

In Between

I’m in the land of in between. That is, I’ve left my last permanent home, and I’m not sure of where the next will be. That’s ok, and was part of the plan. Now that I’m here, temporarily situated in a small apartment, thinking about next consumes a lot of my time and energy. I’m working, finishing some projects that I’d begun for this small clinic, so I’m busy enough. But after hours and on weekends, the task is to focus, to research, to outline.

We’ve had a nomadic course through life, staying put in some locations for years…I think 12 years was the longest time we lived in one location. Other places were home for two, or three, or five years. We’ve roamed about the country, sampling different regions and climates, and there’s been good about most of our choices.

Now, I’m feeling the pull of family again, feeling the need for a road system, and for a choice that can serve for the years to come.

Closing in the on the year, the goal is simple: pick a ferry date for January, and a plan for driving out. We’ll keep work going in Alaska, but it’s time to invent a new formula for living. And that means a new location for the down time.

We’re looking for four seasons, a soft winter climate, something on the western side of the country. Looking for a smaller community but with access to a regional airport. We’ve considered everything from Sonoma County, CA to Lane County, OR, to Walla Walla, WA, to Grand Junction, CO…and we’re still looking, still sorting.

So, anyone have a suggestion? Where would you choose to live if you could go anywhere?

“Even the smallest actions are steps in the right direction.”    

“This is the beginning of anything you want.”

Selling a house, packing a home

Tomorrow the movers come. I’m not quite ready. And by not quite, I mean I have a few days’ worth of work left to do. Somehow I’ll power through, just like I’ve done for past moves. There’s an adrenaline born of sheer panic that kicks in, and suddenly the stacks begin to disappear into boxes. I’m more ready than it appears to the eye. But still, there’s a lot to accomplish in the next 24 hours.

The good thing is: this is an Alaska move. That means: the things I’m shipping out go to Seattle by barge, and by sheer good luck I chose to have the movers come on the day the barge comes through town for pick up. I’m missing tomorrow’s barge. But that’s a good thing. Because that means that the bulk of my shipment will go down to the container at the barge line yard, but I’ll have access to it and can add the boxes that I’m not quite done with later tomorrow, or even Friday.

Friday is D day, because that’s the last day we have the use of the house. So I have to be done by 4:00 on Friday.

And it’s good to have a deadline…otherwise, this could stretch out for another week, or even longer.

The definition of moving is: one big decision, followed by a million little ones.

I think I’ve looked at everything I own. Twice. Maybe three times. If I have to make another decision about what to do with anything, it may be the end of me. I think there are only so many decisions in a person, and I’ve surely reached my limit with this move.

I’m doing another multi-sort…store, sell, donate, trash, keep with me. I have different areas of the house designated for each stack, and as I progress, some of the stacks have diminished. The sell/donate/trash area is almost done. I have a couple of things being picked up at the last minute, but most of those items are dispersed.

The things to store are in decent shape, although I have a few hours left for the final touches.

The things I’m keeping with me for the in-between are the ones that are causing me a little angst…I think I have more than I can fit in my car. I could be in a wee bit of trouble.

Fortunately I have friends in town I can ask to hold a box or two, or ten, until I can get back to pick up. Initially I’m just going about 15 miles to another community. This is a soft landing, a temporary apartment that we can use while we sort out the long term plan.

While I do my last emptying of this drawer and that cupboard, I wipe down, and clean, and think.

Just when I’m all ready to do this, I get a lump in my throat, and the simple act of wiping down my kitchen range makes me weepy.

It’s been a home, and a good one.

It’s been a source of some conflict. Rob never wanted this house, and I did, and it’s been a source of angst between us. No doubt about that.

And yet, it’s been home too, a grand old lady, born in 1920, standing proud almost a century later. A comfortable nest in a rainy spot, it’s seen us through family holidays, quiet nights of talking, movie nights of laughter, teary nights of conflict. It’s been home the past almost-six years.

It’s taught me the value of good bones of an old structure, and the reality that the gracious and sturdy character of craftsman building are worth having, if you can get them.

I’m not particularly excited to hand it over to the buyers. They’re getting it with a low offer, born of my need to sell and a constellation of issues that made even a low offer palatable. But still, they seem difficult and cheap, and I have to admit, I feel a bit of a grudge handing over my home to people that don’t seem worthy.

Now that’s judgmental, isn’t it?

They’re probably lovely. I just feel irritated that they seem to disrespect this old house with their low offer and their difficult demeanor during the buying process. But it’s done, and now it’s time for me to dredge up some graciousness and present the house and the keys with a generous spirit.

That’s what I think the house deserves. Silly, I know. Houses are things, albeit big things. They don’t feel, or know, or think.

Do they?

I know that truth with my head, but tell that to my heart.

I wipe down surfaces and want to present it with its best foot forward. Because that’s what I think is due the house, never mind the buyers. I’m doing this because this is a lovely old place, and it deserves to be handed over in good style.

Silly, I know. But somehow I feel that leaving it in its best shape honors the house, and the way I’ve felt about it. And it’s the right thing to do, so I’m doing it.

I’ve had a fire sale to get out of town. It’s so expensive to ship out of state I’ve sold almost all the furniture and a lot of the household stuff I’ve accumulated. I’m leaving Alaska with eight small pieces of furniture and a lot of boxes. And that’s it. No appliances, no dining or living room or bedroom furniture. Just sold it all and waiting to see what “next” looks like.

Some minutes I feel I’m resetting, embarking on a great adventure. And the next minute I wonder where my mind has gone. Only time will tell which is the version of the story that’s true.

I know one thing…there’s nothing like moving and paying for it yourself to make you evaluate everything you own. And though I’ve said goodbye to some things I loved, I feel lighter, and free-er, and the flicker of excitement because I don’t know what the next chapter looks like.

I hope I’m brave enough and old enough for this adventure! At 54, I ought to be old enough for anything. But I’ll admit, changing the pattern without much of a plan in place, other than the temporary apartment, is a bit drastic, even for me. I hope I don’t get lost in the big world.

I hope my house will be in good hands, and will have a long life, looking out over the Tongass Narrows, watching the cruise ships come and go each season, and the float planes and other sea-going traffic buzzing round.

There’s a part of me that wants to say: RIP. But that hardly seems appropriate, much less gracious. I’m leaving the house, but it’s not going anywhere.

So I’ll just say: goodbye, 1320 Water Street. You were a good place to land.

Birthday joys

Today is my birthday, and I’ve already heard from so many of my family and friends. So fun to see the notes on Facebook or the texts on my phone, to have morning calls and birthday cards. All sweet!

I had an amazing pre-birthday last weekend, and that was sweet too. Spent a long weekend in Sonoma County and soaked up warmth, sun, delicious food, biking, and beautiful scenery. What a treat that was! Driving the winding country roads, seeing the grapes hanging ready for harvest, stopping to make a photo of a picturesque view or beautiful winery was the perfect way to end the summer. More about that later…that trip deserves much more than a passing mention in today’s post!

Looking across the valley

Looking across the valley outside Healdsburg, CA


Chateau Montelena, Calistoga, CA

Harvest time!

Harvest time!

And on Thursday this week, I accepted an offer on the house. This is from the same couple that looked at it before, so we’ve already gone through the nitty-gritty of inspection, appraisal, offer and counter. They came back with a better deal, so now closing looks set for October 10th.


I remind myself again..life works out. Not always as I thought, and certainly not always neat and tidy, or even as I’d like. The house is still selling at a loss. But it is selling, and I won’t have to live through a 2+ year street replacement project. (Apparently that doesn’t trouble these buyers.) If I thought this was a forever home, it would be worth it. But that’s not the case.

As to what’s next, that’s still up in the air. For now, completing some fall work commitments, a break for the holidays, spending time catching up with family, and taking time out to make a good decision is the plan. The things that will ship out will go to storage in Seattle, so that’s an easy solution for a while.


I’ll admit my anxiety level has been high. Nice to see some light peeking through the clouds, and to acknowledge: it’s important to step back, take a breath, await events. I learn again that solutions sometimes come, not at once, but at last. And there’s probably a reason for that.

I can’t see the reason at the moment. I certainly can’t make sense of the house selling at a loss, and I’m not suggesting that there’s divine meaning behind everything. Just that I find it helpful to evaluate…is there a lesson here? Some takeaway I should file for future reference? Sometimes I get it, and sometimes not. Or maybe I’m overthinking.

But regardless…today is a good day, and I’m thankful to be spending at least a part of it sorting and boxing, taking up that task again.

And I think about “next” and the options on the horizon. There’s a piece of my brain that wonders about all this. I’m 54 today. Shouldn’t I be snug and dug in?

Yes, that would make sense, so of course that’s out.

The funny thing is I don’t see myself as the adventure loving type, not really. I’ve stumbled into some interesting choices, but I’ll be honest to say that’s been more a result of following the leader, rather than my own instincts.

But I’m curiously excited by the chance to mix it all up again, to live in anticipation, to wonder where the next birthday will be. And today, it’s enough that I can dream as I sort, letting my imagination roam at will, thinking about the constants in my life that keep me sane, regardless of the mailing address.

Faith. Family. Friends. That’s security, and that’s continuity.

The rest is just temporary anyway, and I know that more surely today than on any of my previous birthdays. It’s a good thing to understand, a good place to land.

Full time, temporary

There are many different work styles. I only knew of a handful until the last few years. I knew people worked regular 5 day work weeks, traditional schedules that you could count on. People worked in rotating shifts, or worked out of town, doing things like flying planes or driving trucks. I knew of part time work. But living in Alaska has been an education in work style creativity.

The energy industry in Alaska seems to run in two week shifts…two on, two off, and people commute from other states, or great distances within Alaska, to accommodate this schedule. There are people who live here during the school year, then live in “America” (aka the lower 48) for summers. Some, like Rob and me, work in varying blocks of time. Full time when working, but working as temporary staff. I didn’t know, until Alaska, that many, maybe all, healthcare professionals can work this way. Physicians, nurses, lab, x-ray, allied health professionals…all can work from a few weeks to a few months, then move on to the next place. In a hospital setting, they’re called “travelers.” Travelers often rotate with a particular health care institution, cycling in and out. Even temporary faces become familiar after a while. Many other professions have a seasonal cycle here. Tourism, construction, even forest service jobs are full time and temporary, typically excluding winter months.

So what’s the benefit to working this way? The two week on, two week off workers and teachers are in their own category. These folks really are employees. They have employment with benefits and diversity of location. Those working in block time are typically contractors, and may or may not have some benefit structure in place. Rob and I do not have benefits. We pay our own health insurance, to the tune of about $1000 a month for the two of us. We make a better rate for unit of time, but there is no paid leave, no access to other employer benefits for us.

What we do get is freedom, and change of pace, scenery, and people. We are free to commit when and where we want. That doesn’t mean we don’t work, but it does mean we can decline to work if we want to be “off,” or we can choose which organization we will work for. Currently we have multiple options for work, so we have choice. Commitments are typically a week at a time, minimum, and we are able to plan weeks, even months, in advance.

What does all this mean? It means we are sometimes in Ketchikan, working in the clinic there, and at home. The rest of the time we’re working, we’re in small bush communities in SE Alaska, living in furnished apartments, not quite living out of a suitcase, but definitely not at home either.

If your family structure is flexible, if you can weather weeks when you are not working, and are thus without income; if you are not climbing a corporate ladder, or running your own business empire, you too could work like this. Maybe the question is: why would you want to?

This is our transition plan to our next stage. Not sure yet what that will look like, but in the interim, we need time to explore other geography, other ways of earning an income, and our own interests and desires. We also still need income. I describe it as being at that awkward age…too young to retire, but ready for change. Working in block time gives us ability to structure travel and time to think, which is essential when you’re planning a reconstruction of your life.

To live this way, and assuming you’re not just working for the fun of it, you’ll probably have to cut some expenses. And you have to have financial cushions. You have to think outside the box. And you have to plan. This takes a lot of planning.

At this point in my life, I’m relaxed enough to enjoy living this way. I have to be honest to say that Rob invented this lifestyle for us. I wouldn’t have done this on my own. I’m not inventive. I only go outside the box when I’m dragged out. But once I get out, I usually like it.

So, on with our year of transition. That’s what we’re calling it. It may or may not be a year by the calendar. But I can already tell: we’re definitely in transition. See you on the merry-go-round!

Craig, Aaska, take two

It’s Monday and we’re back in Craig, Alaska. Rob will be working here the next three weeks, and I’m here to do some training for PeaceHealth. I’m winding down, about to enter my last full month of full time. Scary, daunting, exciting, a little surreal. Here we go!

This time we’re staying in a different place. When you do locums work (filling in for a permanent provider), a place to stay is part of the package. The accommodations can vary greatly. We’ve stayed in bed and breakfasts, efficiency apartments, cottages, hotels…The nice thing is that usually the place comes with basic kitchen stuff so you can have coffee and do as much cooking as you choose without going out for every meal. (I like to go out, but on rainy dreary nights, I just want home, and the comfort of getting cozy.) The place we stayed last week for Thanksgiving even came with a Butterball turkey in the freezer, the clinic’s holiday gift to each staff member. However, I did not choose to make the turkey for the two of us. We shared the holiday meal with several others and I brought my southern-style creamed corn and sweet potato casserole. The turkey (still frozen) flew home with us on Saturday and is now living in my freezer in Ketchikan. Hey, I’ll make a turkey dinner sooner or later…just won’t be this month, or in December.

We’re only a half hour flight from Ketchikan, on the island of Prince of Wales. We came over Sunday afternoon and I was surprised to see there is a lot of snow here. There’s a much bigger road system here than in Ketchikan, though not all of the roads are paved. This island was a major logging site years ago and a lot of the roads are from that era.

These little outposts are interesting. You never know what you’ll find in the way of stores and amenities. It can be hit and miss. I’m actually amazed at what is here when I realize that everything is either flown in or barged in. When you can’t drive in, the price of everthing goes up. Way up.

I enjoy the glimpse of small town life. Well, Ketchikan is small, but this is really little. I grew up in a small town, so this feels familiar. What’s different is the degree of isolation you experience on remote islands. Ketchikan has Alaska Airlines flying in and out several times each day, and the major state ferries stop there. You can’t drive out, but you can get out pretty easily. Not cheaply, but easily enough. The ferry from Prince of Wales (POW, locals call it) takes three hours to get to Ketchikan and the connection point for other travel. Or you can fly, but that’s pricey and baggage allowance is limited. Most folks here do an occasional ferry trip to Ketchikan to make a Walmart run or for some specialty need in healthcare. Women go over a couple of weeks before giving birth to deliver in the hospital there. There is no hospital here, just a couple of clinics on the island doing primary care and visiting clinic care.

Tuesday…Today the clinic has a visiting specialty provider coming over, and someone is coming for the day to set up the scanner and computer for the training I’m doing. Weather yesterday pushed both these visits to Tuesday. No planes were flying on Monday. But people around here are used to weather ruling. Ir makes a lot of decisions easy…bad weather, no flying. Really bad weather, no boating, although the ferries are big enough they usually keep to their regular schedules.

Ah, life on the frontier! Some things are so “normal,” you’d think you were on Main Street USA. There’s cable tv and Starbucks coffee in the grocery store and everyone has cell phones. But just when you think you know what to expect you’re caught by surprise…some pieces of life just work a little differently.

I’ve learned to accommodate. I bring my heels for work in a backpack and wear my snow boots. I bring snacks and a few basics. In some of these small communities the grocery closes at 6:00 and restaurants may or may not be open. Some businesses are only open seasonally. I’ve learned the hard way to be self-reliant, at least for the first night in a new place.

I often wonder if life will look different here years from now. Change comes slowly, but it does come. Who knows? But the weather, the remoteness, the ocean…nothing will change that. And for the people who choose this as home, maybe that’s a good thing.