Containers

If you can’t win one way, you look for another path. So the house is available for lease now, as well as for sale…whichever comes first I’ll take. I talked to my realtor about leasing options a couple of weeks ago, but felt I had to wait on the outcome of the offer on the table at the time.

I don’t want to own a house in Alaska forever, but for now, if I lease it that will be sufficient. So another waiting game begins.

I’m ready to take the subject of house off the table for a while and focus on other things. In the long run, as this whole ordeal has reminded me, a house is a thing. It’s a big thing, an expensive thing, as things go. And certainly houses are also homes.

But the real meaning of home travels around in the bodies of the people I love, and isn’t housed within four walls. Any four walls. Walls are just containers, really, like the containers you put your flour or sugar in to store in your pantry. The containers come in different shapes, and are made of different materials. But when I recognize walls of a house for what they really are…just containers for the people who live inside…suddenly, those walls take on their proper perspective.

I’m not going to tell myself I don’t like beautiful homes, and lovely walls. I do. And I’m not going to say that the structure I live in has no meaning. Of course our life experiences are shaped by location and the physical surroundings of our day-to-day.

But those surroundings don’t have to define experience, our very lives. And though I’ve known that, this has reminded me, again: I am not the house I live in. I don’t have to let it control the major decisions of my life.

I’ve found a spark of rebellion, and a healthy one I think. I’m ready to pull out of my slump and come back to the positive side of life. I’ve been trying to do that for a while.

Today it seems doable.

Today I’m reminded there are so many people who have issues larger than mine. It’s not about comparing, but it is about perspective. I want to always, always, come back to recognizing how much I have to be grateful for.

Life, any life, has troubles. I have my share of those, sure enough, and my share of sorrows. But gratitude resets me, grounds me, and oddly enough, allows me to take the focus off myself.

Today I am grateful for the freedom I have to believe as I choose, to express myself, to travel, to live where I want, to make of life what I can. I’m grateful for the people who keep freedom for me, and all who live in this country.

Thank you, thank you, for all you do.

Now that’s the proper perspective.

~ Sheila

About these ads

Hello September!

I know the official start to fall is still ahead of us, but for me, that’s always been the first day of September, so here we are again: in the season of falling leaves and pumpkins and apple crisps and cozy soups. These are a few of my favorite things.

Normally I would be pulling out autumn decor, moving my summer season look to the back of the cupboard and putting out the accents that hint at chill in the air and the smell of wood fires. But at the moment all of that stuff is boxed and I can’t bring myself to unearth it just yet.

I countered the offer I got last week and should have an answer by Wednesday. If the counter offer is rejected, that’ll be soon enough to pull out a few things to bring some fall color to the rooms. After all, the house will still be on the market, and selling is about staging, right? So it will be worth doing a little work to set the right tone. The goal is to have anyone who sees the house imagine themselves living here. And how could anyone do that in September without a little fall foliage to add some color?

In best September form, the sun is warm and strong today, the light lingering and offering hope that the fall rains won’t begin until October. Of course, no month in Ketchikan is free from rainfall. But some years September is an extension of summer, and others it feels like November.

I’m always tempted to look at school supplies in the fall, though I don’t have kids at home now. I look at the school lists in the stores and remember how many years we did that, stocking up and getting ready for the first big day of the new grades. Must run in the family. I know my mom and my daughter are school supply lovers too…just something about a pristine new notebook or box of crayons that have all their tips intact.

I think the calendar year should begin in September instead of January. It would take so much pressure off that month, and the holiday season in general. Maybe we should sign a petition?

Here’s hoping for good weather, a house sold, and the magic of fall, all coming together this week. I could really get excited about that. And it would be a small miracle, especially the house piece. But I’m open to that.

Fall bouquet

Fall bouquet

 

 

Digital garage sales and other joys

So I sold the house. Or at least I accepted the offer, which is not necessarily the same thing. We’re through the inspection phase, which went well, but now we wait for the appraisal and the rest of the process to grind through. I’ve already had a few hundred anxious hours over this transaction. I won’t feel entirely at ease until the closing is done. I’ve never had a closing fall through, but I know it happens. I just don’t want it to happen to me.

I’ve had a knot in my stomach pretty much every hour since I got the offer. It was low, much lower than it should have been.

67ff5c136780e850e10b8f7468a628b8

I countered, and they countered, and I caved. Still too low.

But as a woman who sat with a house listed for eight months and not a single offer a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t let it go. And the rainy season is coming, and sales are slower that time of year. I know, it can happen anytime. But waiting it out becomes a marathon.

You’d think this house is unattractive or something. Instead, everyone who walks in is charmed. The view is amazing. It’s almost maintenance free for yard work, the little front and back flower gardens hardly need attention.

It has dedicated parking, and that, on Water Street, is worth something, let me tell you!

I don’t know…maybe it’s a sign that I wasn’t intended to make my fortune in the real estate market. Our other home purchases and sales have always gone well…no sales that were extraordinary, but at least they were profitable.

I’m sad to say that I’m selling at a loss. On the flip side, I’m selling.

In the meantime, I joined the local Facebook sale site, where you post items and then sell like crazy. Or at least that’s my experience. I’ve got a virtual store going and I’m quickly funding shipping costs to the lower 48. Exciting, and the most fun I’ve had getting ready for a major move. Today I had a little party at my house which happened because several people who were picking up all arrived about the same time, and they all knew each other. So we sat and chatted and they shopped and I sold….very satisfying! Maybe my talent isn’t real estate, but I run a great boutique.

Between sorting everything I own, deciding what to keep, sale, donate, store, discard, etc., etc., etc., I’m spending a lot of time in my basement, packing boxes and trying to guess just what will be useful in the next setting…difficult to accomplish as I don’t exactly have “next” figured out yet.

Shipping rates out of Alaska make it easy to consider redesigning my look. I’m taking plenty with me. But I’m leaving more than I thought I would. Funny how quickly I detach as I estimate the weight of furniture and all the stuff! It’s a tortuous process. Movers pick up your boxes and furniture, then it all goes to a barge, has to be loaded into a container, then barged down to Seattle, then put on a truck, then on to the destination. The more transfers, the more it costs, of course.

Ah, the joys of a move!

I’m looking forward to getting my life back, getting rid of my house anxiety, paring down, making a fresh start.

But first…a little more basement time. :)

The Valley of Indecision

So I have an offer on the house…lower than I wanted, so I’ve countered. And now I wait to hear. The prospective buyers have until Wednesday at 5:00. I doubt it will take that long to hear the decision, but still, the wait is hard to endure. And will they counter again? I hate these games. I wish we could just sit down and talk to each other. But that’s not the way it’s done.

The hard thing is I’ve loved this house. It’s been a nest I would enjoy anywhere, but unfortunately I can’t barge it down to a new location in the lower 48. So part of the process of resetting life is making the choice to move. It’s the first step of many, and at that, my anxiety may be premature. I may just get a rejection and be back to square one.

What do homes say about us? What do they mean? I’ve been a life-long nester, and my home is my refuge in many ways. But I have to say, the older I get, the more I realize…the physical structure, and the furnishings, while they’re important, only go so far.

When you need a real refuge, you need heart, and soul, love and strength. You need character and integrity, loyalty and grace. And none of these things are dependent on the structure of a home, no matter how beautiful or how comfortable it may be.

I’ve faced some challenging moments in my life, and I’m sure there are more to come…life has a way of doing that, testing you, sending a lot of the same lessons over and over again. And each time I realize I learn something new…insights about what I really value, who I want to be in the good times, but more importantly, in the bad.

I’ve learned to feed myself the messages that I want to live, to project what I want to be until it becomes real. Some of the transformation has been slow, but it is happening. And selling a home is just another filter…another lens to look through, to see what I’m really made of.

There have been plenty of times I’ve been disappointed in myself…haven’t been strong enough, or brave enough, or creative enough. But one thing I do know: I have heart, and I don’t give up. So using the filter, the lens, of the success of selling the house, if it happens, I’m going to be thrilled, and celebrate, and find a way to make it positive.

And if it doesn’t happen this time, I’m still going to find a way to make it positive. That’s my life lesson, to take the experiences that seem like defeats and turn them into victories. And believe me, some of the defeats take a lot of work to reframe. Some of the defeats have nearly killed me. But I think most people have to absorb this teaching if they survive, and thrive, in spite of the darts of life.

Sounds pretty philosophical…maybe I’m taking the whole thing too seriously. But tonight, waiting on a decision that has the power to impact my life in such a big way, it doesn’t feel like I’m blowing it out of proportion.

I’m not in control of life, but I can be in control of myself. So whatever happens, I’ll find my smile, and I’ll put on my heels the next morning and go out and try again. Because anything else is the true defeat, the true loss.

The house will sell when the time is right, and I know that in my heart, even if my head has a hard time believing that.

Wish me luck!

And to my blogging friends out there…I haven’t abandoned you…just a little pre-occupied right now. But soon, I’ll be catching up, and reading about all you’ve been up to this summer.  See you soon!

My house!

~ Sheila

Happy Birthday Mom!

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

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

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

Marking the moment

Marking the moment

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

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

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

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

~ Sheila

Visits and birthdays, the good stuff

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

 

Fearless Jack!

Fearless Jack!

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

Riley the First-born

Riley the First-born

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

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

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

Alex, happy 27!

Alex, happy 27!

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

Blue water!

Blue water and Ketchikan

Pacific Airways

Pacific Airways, local transport

 

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

 

Fresh picks

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

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

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

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

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

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

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

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

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

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

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

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

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

Chopped!

Chopped!

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

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me :) )

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

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

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

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

 

Surprise!

Surprises happen.

We’ve been working, recruiting, doing taxes, traveling, more working…well, it’s a common plight…life requires income, and income, I find, requires work. At least in my experience.

Anyway, I’m home for a few weeks, looking forward to getting re-acquainted with my kitchen and my bed. One of the perks of traveling for work is that I’m always happy to come home…kind of the reverse of needing a vacation. I’m just happy to be in my own space since work usually takes me elsewhere.

First things first. I couldn’t concentrate on other tasks until I reclaimed my space. After a couple of months of one and two day turn-arounds, the house was a bit needy. I try to leave things tidy, but after awhile, you just have to stop and do some upkeep. So things got a wipe down, and where appropriate, a scrub down. Those dust bunnies don’t take a holiday just because no one’s home.

Then it was on to the calls. I have a few repairs to line up, and in this climate, anything that is exterior has a short summer window of opportunity. So I’ve put myself on a list for some summer painting, and some deck maintenance. A little hedge trimming is in the works too, probably sometime next month when we have some warmer weather. And most painful of all, I’m replacing one of the huge picture windows that are framed into the front walls of the house.

Cracks in the glass

Cracks in the glass

Well, I’m not doing it, I’m merely financing it. The window guys are doing it. And let me tell you, the whole thing is just a bit frightening.

We came home to find that this window, a double-paned giant, had developed a crack on the inside pane. I’m pretty sure the dust bunnies aren’t playing baseball inside the house when we’re gone, so I assume this was due to temperature change, age, or some force of the universe that’s both invisible and unidentified. There’s no sign of any impact, and no damage to the external pane. So I guess it’s just one of those things. Anyway, no help for it, it has to be replaced. With a three to four week wait time for the glass to arrive, I’m just hoping it holds and I don’t wake up to shards all over the floor before the replacement is installed.

But that’s really not the painful part. At least so far, the glass is holding, even if the cracks are scary. No, the really ugly part is the cost. Twelve hundred and fifty dollars this will cost me. $1250.00! Good thing I’m working!

And then! Then, when we got home, there was a little love note on my door. My friendly home heating buddies had stopped by and left a bill. Eight hundred and thirty-two dollars for fuel oil the last two months, and we’ve barely been here! Oh, we left the furnace on, with one zone of the house heated to keep the pipes from freezing. But still! Do you think someone has noticed that we’re gone a lot and helped themselves to our fuel oil? I mean, really, this is ridiculous!

Fuel oil robbery?

Fuel oil robbery?

So, after that battering…I mean, I know utilities and repairs are expensive, but this was a harsh opening of the door…after that, I needed some time to enjoy being home and get cozy. If I’m bleeding out from financing this gem of a place, I better get some return.

So, I’ve tidied, and I’ve nestled in. I went shopping in my basement and replaced the winter decor with spring (ever hopeful) that the new season will arrive on time. In honor of springing ahead, I’m prepping for Easter, longer days and brighter colors.

Now if I can just figure out where my fuel oil is going!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I wrote these thoughts a couple of weeks ago, but now, I can’t post this without adding that these are trivial issues today. My father-in-law is in the ICU, has been for the past few days. He had a cold last week that sent him to the emergency room on Tuesday, and to ICU level on Wednesday. What’s a broken window and a fuel oil bill? They’re irritants and expenses, but they are not the stuff of life. Life is the stuff of life. Funny how easy it is to forget that, at least on a very small and personal level…I’m not talking about recognizing that the world has many ills and tragedies that unfold hourly…but about the unwelcome reminder that life is fragile, when one of the 7+ billion humans on the planet that I know by name and love by heart is seriously ill.

Bringing out the best

One of my tasks for the clinic in Metlakatla is recruiting for providers, and once a position is offered and accepted, I follow up with logistics support. That means I answer a million questions about moving, ferries, barges, lodging, transportation, pets, support, etc., etc., etc. By the time the new provider arrives, I feel like we’re old friends.

I haven’t helped with the hiring process for other staff until recently when I was asked to follow up with a new nurse joining the clinic this month. She’s moving up from the mid-west, sight unseen. That alone is enough to get my attention. Moving to Alaska is advanced logistics, a lot more complex than cross country moves in the “lower 48.” Moving to a small remote island in Alaska requires even more attention to detail. Stepping off the edge without a preview…well, that takes a braver spirit than I’ve got.

So, after a few conversations and emails, I was feeling well acquainted with the new nurse. She was scheduled to arrive on Sunday, March 9, and I wasn’t surprised to see her number come up on my phone last Thursday. I figured she was checking in one last time before getting on the ferry on Friday.

The voice on the phone was a little shaky and I could tell something was wrong. I asked her if she was ok, and the immediate response was “No, I’m not doing very well, I need some help!” She was on the edge of tears and obviously distressed. I listened to her story, mind racing about what to do.

http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140306/NEWS01/140309386/1052/Thief-steals-U-Haul-car-of-nurse-moving-to-Alaska-for-job

She had driven a U-Haul across the country to Washington and was planning to come up to Alaska on the ferry. Furniture, household goods, clothes, mementoes from her mother and grandmother…everything was in the U-Haul. Sometime during the previous night, her vehicle and the U-Haul were stolen from the hotel parking lot. The hotel had a surveillance video of the theft and had filed a report with the police. But she was unsure of her next steps.

We quickly put a plan together. I told her she could certainly delay her start date if she needed to stay in Washington to deal with the theft. She said she preferred to keep her original plans as there was nothing she could do there but wait. At least in Metlakatla she could be working. The clinic had arranged for her to stay in a furnished house, and I knew we could work out a loaner vehicle for her. Still, I was impressed that she wasn’t curled into a fetal position. We made a plan to meet when she arrived in Ketchikan Sunday morning on the Washington ferry. She was bringing her two labs with her, and I offered to pick her up and get her to the Met ferry later that morning.

Sunday…I called this morning to be sure she was off the ferry and pinpoint a meeting place. The voice on the phone sounded positive, upbeat, even excited. I thought the two day trip up from Washington had probably helped…you lose cell service, so you’re unplugged from the world. Probably a good thing in this case.

We met for the first time, got the dogs and baggage in the car, and over coffee and breakfast, I got the next chapter of the story.

Her vehicle and U-Haul had been found, but the vehicle wasn’t drivable. The police still had it when she left on Friday, and she had to sort out the next steps with the insurance company. In the meantime, her story was picked up by the local newspaper. She had a steady stream of visitors at the hotel before she left, with people stopping by to bring her clothes and miscellaneous things to help fill her needs. She had one suitcase after the theft and when I picked her up this morning she had seven bags…six more filled by people trying to help.

The most poignant story she shared was about a gift of money she received. From a reformed thief.

About midnight the day after the theft, she got a call from the hotel front desk staff saying someone was there to see her. She went down and met a woman who told her that her boyfriend was a former thief. When he sees a situation like hers, he tries to help as much as he can. The woman gave her $500 and left. No address, no name for follow up. Just gave the money and left.

There’s something powerful about a story like that.

I’m still absorbing the thought of payback, or is that paying forward? Righting wrongs? Not sure how to label that act of kindness. But something about it seems profound, like being witness to a path to redemption. I wish I could follow that story, but that’s probably the most important part…that no one can follow, the gift was anonymous, an honest attempt to make up in some way for former dishonesty.

The Best Western gave her free lodging.

The ferry service upgraded her.

She had people who realized who she was giving her notes, offers of help in multiple ways. A link to her story went out to the clinic staff in Metlakatla on Friday. I think the whole community of 1500 people is ready to embrace her.

When I drove up to the Met ferry to offload her things, the crew already knew she was coming and were ready to assist.

One of the nurses at the clinic offered a vehicle for her use.

It’s not even my story, and I’m overwhelmed.

Once again, I see that for all the sad and terrible things in the world, there are people to help, to care, to comfort. And while no one can replace the things that were lost, maybe the lasting impact will be the generosity and the kindness from strangers, finding compassion when someone is down, offering help when it’s needed. I know I could pick up the paper, or go online, and find stories that would show the ugly side of life. Those are out there too, sadly every day. But for today, I got to see the other side, up close and personal. And I think I’ll sit with this for a while, and savor the good stuff.

The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines. ~ Charles Kuralt

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…