Winter waiting

It’s an awkward time of year. Christmas decor has been packed away, ornaments sorted, lights rolled and stored. I have a few red berry accents still out. It seems winter-like without speaking too loudly of a holiday theme. But as soon as Christmas and New Years is past, my heart is ready for warmth. As far as I’m concerned, we could skip the majority of the winter season and move straight to spring.

I love snow and cold weather around the holidays. It goes with all the trimmings, the coats and sweaters and hearty stews. But my interest in snow disappears with the Christmas tree, and that brings me to the annual dilemma…how to make it to the March/April time frame when you can legitimately begin to bring out the spring accents, the lighter colors, the decor that says Easter is around the corner and the days are getting longer? It seems a long time to wait, all the way through January and February, through cold dark mornings and short days. By the time I leave my office at 5:30, it feels like 8:00 in the evening. There is daylight here during the day. Ketchikan is only a few hundred miles north of Seattle, so the extreme dark and light cycles don’t occur here as they do in the far north of Alaska. But the days are short enough, even here.

So I wait, “wishing my life away” as my grandmother would say. And I’m really not doing that. There are pleasures in the winter. A hot cup of tea in the evening, a fire, the short days a frequent reason (ok…excuse) to talk myself out of a trip to the gym after work, without feeling too guilty about it…it seems a little more acceptable to hibernate, to have cozy weekend time. I curl up with a catalog already offering spring clothing and another one with spring home furnishings, and I’m ready for it: the return to light, to warmth, to the next season.

This week we’ve had some snow accumulation and there is ice on the sidewalks after a bit of a melt and freeze cycle. I had to wear my snow boots to work instead of my usual choice of heels. (I may love shoes but I’m not stupid!) But we’re gaining light every day. It’s just a matter of time. My teapot is singing, my spirit is lifting.

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New tastes

Rob’s sister, Angela, who lives in California, introduced me to a lovely new treat last weekend. We stopped by a boutique bakery, which is actually part of a franchise, “Nothing Bundt Cakes.” This is what happens when you live in Alaska…yummy things appear and you don’t even know you’re missing out…there are no bundt cake bakeries in Ketchikan!

So check this out: http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com/   If you’re lucky enough to live near one of these little stores, I suggest you take yourself on an outing immediately and enjoy a sample, pick up a bundtlet, or a full size cake. The texture is amazing, the flavors (both I’ve tried, so far) are luscious, and the look is fun.  The small size is perfect for sharing with one or two others, if you must. But you may want to enjoy it alone, just you and a fork. And if you don’t live in a community with one of the stores, the website offers nation-wide shipping. I know, I know…it’s just cake! But wait till you try it. Then you’ll be like me, planning your next trip while checking out the store locations.

Thank you, Angela!

The other thing I just tried that was easy and fun was a recipe for Coconut Thai soup. It was simple and delicious, and the ingredients are basic enough to be found in any market. I followed the ingredient list, but I went a bit heavy on the lime and cilantro. I also saw a version of this recipe without the curry paste, for non-curry fans.

Coconut Thai Soup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 stalk lemon grass, minced
2 teaspoons red curry paste
4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 (13.5 ounce) cans coconut milk
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 pound medium shrimp – peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook and stir the ginger, lemongrass, and curry paste in the heated oil for 1 minute. Slowly pour the chicken broth over the mixture, stirring continually. Stir in the fish sauce and brown sugar; simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and mushrooms; cook and stir until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp; cook until no longer translucent about 5 minutes. Stir in the lime juice; season with salt; garnish with cilantro.

Here’s to a happy kitchen adventure in cold January!

State of mind

I just spent a great week away from home. No, I wasn’t on vacation in some exotic place. Well, not exactly. Rob and I spent last week working in a small clinic in Craig, Alaska, and we stayed in a little rustic cottage. We ate out twice, pizza both times (about the only option in town, from what I saw). Most of the time we ate in, basic and simple meals, nothing gourmet. Evenings were quiet, watching a little tv, researching stocks, blogging, talking. And what made it special? Being together. After spending the greater part of the past two years apart, I have a new appreciation for time together. I’ve written about this epiphany before, but I’m happy to see that it is continuing.

We had an opportunity to renew our acquaintance with friends we met in Kotzebue; they’ve just moved to Prince of Wales. We had a lovely dinner with them, reminiscing about fun and funny experiences in the Arctic, recalling friends and memories that we share.

But it wasn’t all fun. Rob’s dad is not well, and we wait to learn what direction this will take. It’s a reminder that family is central to life.

Companionship, friendship, family: the essential relationships in life make us rich, give us joy, make it all worthwhile. Sometimes bring sorrow. Everyone knows that. Why is it so hard to keep this reality in focus? I find I need a daily reminder of what’s important. It’s the same thing, every time: people, matters of the heart, the simple, the real. The lesson is never fully learned, never finished. But fortunately, neither are the chances to re-learn.

Start the year right

Our year has started with a jolt. Rob’s dad was admitted to the hospital on New Year’s Eve with double pneumonia, and is now going through additional testing. There may be a more serious underlying condition.

Our lives are in flux. We are in the process of initiating another round of change, upheaval, adventure…call it what you will. STRESS! I feel a permanent knot in my stomach. Rob is spending a lot of time on the phone with his sister, who is with his mom and dad. There are a lot of questions, and so far few answers.

I’m reminded that life is frequently inconvenient, unexpected, impossible to plan for in advance; that we are all vulnerable: to accidents, illness, to events that are unforeseen. And how do we navigate?

I don’t have the answers. Does anyone? We look for hope and comfort in a variety of ways. Through faith, through others, through routine and ritual that keep us going on automatic pilot even when our minds are consumed with the struggle of the day.

Oswald Chambers said, “The strain is the strength. If there is no strain, there is no strength.” A good thing to remember at the beginning of the year, especially one that is starting this way.

Alaska: big state, or small?

Alaska is famously large. There are a lot of statistics that emphasize the bigness of the state, the awesome natural features of mountains, glaciers, Arctic tundra, frozen seas. But there is a curious smallness to the state as well, something that isn’t understood until you live here. There are very few people in Alaska. This is the only place I’ve ever lived where I regularly cross paths with people I’ve met in other parts of the state.

When we first moved to Alaska, I was shocked at how often I saw people I knew in the Anchorage airport. You pass through Anchorage to get to Kotzebue, (you have to fly to Kotzebue, there are no roads to take you there) and there was always someone at the airport gate that we knew, either by name or face. We moved to Ketchikan and already knew people in this region that we had known in Kotzebue, who moved here before we did. Now we know people in Sitka, Anchorage, Kodiak, Metlakatla, Craig, and of course, we still have friends in Kotzebue. People move about a lot in this state. Paths cross frequently.

We’re in Craig for two weeks, and just learned that friends moved here two weeks ago, so we’re having dinner with them before we leave. That’s how Alaska is. People you knew in one community pop up somewhere else. And of course, people do leave the state. But it is surprising to me how often there is re-circulation of the population. Any hearty readers out there who want to give it a try? Alaska will give you stories for a lifetime…that’s my personal tag-line for the state. And if you’re interested in rainforest country, I have a house to sell…great view of the water, and in the historic district. Come on up, give it a try. I promise it will change you forever! But it will be good, and eye-opening, and for anyone interested in living in a foreign country where English is spoken and the dollar is the currency, Alaska is your opportunity. It is often called the last frontier. But don’t let the size fool you. It’s a small town place at heart.

Winter comfort

Tonight we had stew for dinner…big chunks of vegetables and beef in a rich broth…comfort food on a rainy January night. The elegant and more elaborate meals of the holidays are done. January is a month for hearty food, easy menus after a cooking marathon…stew you can put on to simmer while you get life back on track.

I’m recovering from a week of baby time, family time. It was good, a reminder of the best parts of life: the special moments, the time that is spontaneous and fun, the time that speeds by when your children are only home for a week. Baby time with an eight-month old brings a new rhythm to two adults and two dogs. I’m pleased to say I remember what to do with a baby! But I also admit my house is no longer child-proofed. I’ll have to do some work before Riley begins to walk. And let’s just say she and the dogs are on good terms. I think she got a lick or two on her face, and I’m pretty sure she ingested some dog hair…impossible to avoid with our ever-shedding Jack Russell. But all part of life with dogs. And dogs and babies are a great combination for entertainment.

They’re home now, Stephanie and Matt and Riley back in Arizona and Alex back at Ft. Campbell. And I am content. I’m excited to have them come to visit, or to see them when it’s our turn to travel. But I’ve learned that our lives continue, and are even fun, with just two of us. I’ve come a long way in the past few years. The empty nest didn’t feel right at once, but it feels right at last. And it’s good to have the comfort of husband, stew, and a cozy space to nurture me and to let me know that my children are where they belong, as are we.

Craig, Alaska

You never know where you’ll find yourself if you don’t mind a little adventure…This week Rob and I are in Craig, Alaska, on Prince of Wales Island. The island is about a three-hour ferry ride from Ketchikan, or a 30 minute flight from Ketchikan on a Cessna aircraft. Rob is working for the next two weeks at a clinic in the small town of Craig. I am along for the ride, working at the clinic here in the same admin role I have in Ketchikan. Nice that this facility is part of the PeaceHealth system! It’s a rare opportunity for me to work in the same environment as Rob, and the bonus is that we can spend the evenings together.

But back to Craig…small town Alaska…there is a grocery, a hardware store, a school, a health clinic, a rec center, a few additional stores, a harbor, lots of bed & breakfast options, a pizza place…this is a fishing heaven in the summer. Not that I would know about that personally, but that’s the main attraction of the community. Southeast Alaska was once about lumber, now it is more about commercial and recreational fishing. There are lots of roads on this island, a remnant of the past logging industry. It is a popular destination for hunting and biking, as well as fishing, and the population ebbs and flows with the season. In summer it can be hard to find lodging…not a problem in January. The rain is a regular presence, a reminder that southeast coastal Alaska is rainforest.

I am fascinated by what draws people to the small villages of Alaska. You can never tell by looking…some people come and stay forever, most don’t. But some are raising families, making a life in these small outposts. They are connected by modern technology, separated by the isolation of geography and climate.

These places are not for me long term…like most people, I find the isolation too much. But it is interesting to get a glimpse of this blend of past and present. These communities are living history museums…better come see for yourself before they’re absorbed and changed by modern life. But take my advice and try to come in the summer…just be sure to book your lodging in advance!

New Year’s goals

I won’t call them resolutions…that seems a bit cliche, and anyway, this is more of a life goal list…desires that will be ongoing, not just a to do list for the next twelve months. I’ve been going through some personal challenges, a time of growth (or so I tell myself), so this list is somewhat challenging, somewhat hopeful, but I believe achievable.

  1. Be honest with myself
  2. See the good in life and those around me
  3. True my life…this is a hard one, but basically I have a few things I need to address, to re-do, to set right…
  4. Spend more time with my children
  5. Move out of Alaska
  6. Be kind: everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle
  7. Maintain my weight, currently 115, and I’d like to hold it there
  8. See the big picture

So here’s to another new year…may it be good for all of us, and bring new opportunities, new friendships, and possiblities that we haven’t even imagined!