Mother’s Day and other adventures

So, thinking I would treat myself to a little face to face with my son, I flew to Denver yesterday. It’s not often that I get one-on-one time with my kids, and when I have a window of opportunity, I figure I should take advantage.

I reserved a car so I wouldn’t disrupt Alex’s work day with the need for an airport pick up. Since I’m by myself, I reserved a compact size. Imagine my surprise when I checked in at Hertz and was told they had a Ram pick up for me! Now, I’ve driven mini-vans, and I’ve driven a Suburban, and I even drove our Class C RV for a stretch of about 10 miles one time…my first and last time to do that. (I had a standing plan that if anything happened to Rob while he was driving it…death or stroke or any little thing that took him out of the driver’s seat, I would put a for sale sign out and abandon it on the spot. I am not comfortable driving 30 ft vehicles. ūüôā )

The customer service agent assured me that I would like driving the truck…you’re up high, he said. You’ll have a better view, he said. I said it would be fine as long as it was an automatic. My upbringing did not include learning to drive a standard transmission. I was not going to admit to the rep that I would prefer a nice comfortable compact when I could get higher and better for the same price. No, no, I have my pride.

Well I was up high, all right. I’m short, and I had to do a little climbing to get in the thing. You know those running boards are not just cosmetic. I was a little insecure driving something that long. (This is a full size 2 ton truck…at least I think it’s 2 ton. Maybe it’s 1 1/2 ton. I’ve heard of those too. But what do I know? Vehicles with numbers are largely over my head.) But it’s true, I had a great view. ¬†I think the other drivers I passed just wanted to stay out of my way.

I proceeded cautiously to the interstate. Now keep in mind, I live in VERY SMALL TOWN Alaska, so I’m not used to driving in heavy traffic these days. I used to be pretty fearless, but now that I don’t do it that often…well, I’m a little intimidated. I can do it, but I prefer to maneuver with a vehicle that’s more my size. I felt like I was in a semi, barreling down the road, peering over the steering wheel.

I don’t have blue hair, and I don’t think anyone would call me a little old lady. But I’ll be ready when the time comes. I know what that feels like now.

I made it to the hotel, and I parked. Alex lives about half a block away, so he’s able to do the driving for the weekend in his car. I’m just glad I don’t have to get in the beast again until Monday, when I go back to the airport. Good thing it was a great rate. Cheaper than a cab or shuttle as it turned out!

And oh yes, the customer service rep mentioned the truck would be good in the snow. Snow? I didn’t expect snow this weekend!¬†I did not pack for a Rocky Mountain spring storm. Guess it’s a shopping opportunity for a sleeve or two. Wonder what else is coming my way?

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who wear that title and love, nurture, and parent. It’s not a task for the faint of heart. But it’s one of the best jobs around. And I’m glad to celebrate this one with Alex, even if it means driving a big truck. I’m funny that way…I’ll do anything to see my kids!

That son of mine

That son of mine

My ride for the weekend

My ride for the weekend

Generations: My mom, my daughter, my granddaughter

Generations: My mom, my daughter, my granddaughter

The Jack & Riley show

The Jack & Riley show

Riley girl

Riley girl

Little Jack

Little Jack

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There and back again

We left Alaska for the holidays on Dec 20. After seeing almost everyone on both sides of the family…(not quite everyone, and the ones we missed were sorely missed!)…and spending some additional time with parents, we’re back. Home for two nights before the work cycle takes hold. But at least the upcoming travel is only a 15 mile trip.

Rob and I came home separately. I spent the last week with my mom, and he spent the week giving his sister some help. Flying cross-country by myself is not my favorite thing to do. I can do it, obviously, but there’s really no fun in it. But I needed to be back to see off the couple who was staying in the house while we were away. They’re retiring, moving out-of-state, and I wanted to say goodbye and do a handoff with the house.

This was my return saga.

Aahh, right there, you know it didn’t go as planned. The very word, “saga” is defined as a long and complicated story with many details, often about past heroes from Norway and Iceland. Well, ¬†there were no Norse heroes in my story. But it was long and complicated.

First, you should know that you can hardly get here from there, or there from here. To reach my mom’s home in Mississippi requires at least three flights, and that’s on a good day. You can add more if you’re creative, or unlucky with timing. It is hard to do in one day, going west to east. You have a better shot at one day travel going east to west. The time zones work against you either direction. There’s a three-hour difference between Alaska time and Central time, and after a long day of travel, you feel every minute.

I’ve long believed that the reason travel is so tiring, even air travel, where you’re largely waiting and sitting, sitting and waiting, is that somehow, you body logs every mile. Never mind that you’re flying hundreds of miles per hour. Your body knows, and registers the appropriate fatigue. So that’s always a factor.

My plan was to leave on Monday. I chose an early afternoon flight to accommodate the drive time to Jackson from my home town, about 90 minutes away. Of course we were up late my last night, and I was up early, so the afternoon flight didn’t translate to a leisurely morning of sleeping in. But it was smooth with no delays.

The funny thing about flight routes: they’re not always logical. I try to fly with Alaska Airlines and partners as much as possible to build air miles. Delta is the partner airline flying out of Jackson, so to pick up an Alaska Airlines flight, I had to go east to Atlanta, setting myself back one more time zone and several hundred miles. I had a three-hour layover at the Atlanta airport. Unbelievably, Atlanta doesn’t offer free wi-fi for airport guests…I’m really paying attention to that these days. It makes a difference when you’re stuck and traveling alone.

From Atlanta, I flew five hours west to Seattle. By the time we arrived it was 9:00, and I was beginning the internal debate about my sleepover arrangements. If I had gotten there earlier, it would have been tempting to go out to Stephanie. She lives about 45 minutes north. But at that time of night it seemed a waste to drive that far when my connecting flight the next morning left at 7:00. Too early to have to be up and back at the airport to make it worth while.

I called her anyway to say hello. She knew I was passing through. We talked a few minutes and then she asked about my bags. I had them checked through to Ketchikan, so I didn’t have anything but my carry-ons. She had driven in to surprise me and was waiting at baggage claim. We went to a nearby diner and had a late night snack, and a little mother/daughter time. It was fun, and sweet, and all the more special because I had resigned myself to missing out this time. I missed the little guys, and Matt, who was home with them, but I’ll admit, it was nice to have a little visit, just we two.

She dropped me off about 11:30, and I went back to find a place to hang out for the next few hours. I’d already decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to get a hotel for four hours, and judging by the number of people spending the night in the airport, I was in good company. It’s not my preferred way to do it, but I just couldn’t justify a hotel room for such a short stay.

As luck would have it, Tuesday morning, I got an upgrade to first class, one of the benefits of frequent travel. Although it’s a short hour and a half flight up to Ketchikan, it’s a good nap opportunity when your seat is a little more spacious and you can settle in without feeling squished.

The flight was uneventful until we approached Ketchikan. Sometimes when the weather is iffy, the friendly gate agents will alert you as you board that you might not be landing. I assume this is to give you the option…do you really want to risk finding yourself in Anchorage instead of Ketchikan, or some other destination along the “milk run” of South East Alaska communities?

This time there was no warning, but we didn’t land. Just as we should have been making a final descent, we suddenly pointed up, and the pilot came on to announce that the weather had worsened and we were now going on to Wrangell, the next stop on the standard route. Well, that’s SE Alaska for you. It’s never happened to me, but I know it’s a somewhat normal occurrence this time of year.

Same story with Wrangell. Instead of going down, we nosed up again. This time the pilot announced we were going on to Juneau. He didn’t even attempt the small community of Petersburg. I guess he had the view and the weather info to know that wasn’t happening either.

We landed in Juneau a little later and were told that there was a flight passing through on the way back to Ketchikan that we could rebook on. I was one of the lucky few who actually made it on the flight. There was a long line behind me that had to wait for the later afternoon flight, which was eventually canceled.

So the few of us that were fortunate to be early in line to rebook got on the southbound plane and settled in, hoping for a better outcome. We had to go first to Sitka, then on to Ketchikan. The Sitka landing was rough, but not too bad. For these short stops you’re encouraged to stay on the plane unless it’s your stop. That allows the oncoming passengers to board more quickly and to do the whole stop within a half hour, which we did.

The second leg was more interesting. A lot more interesting. The wind had picked up, as well as the rain. The waves were rough and choppy. All the airports in the Southeast are right on the water, so you can see what type of weather you’re facing. Not good at all. I was watching the waves when we were on the ground in Sitka, feeling thankful I wasn’t on a boat. Rough seas, so much so that I heard the big ferry wasn’t running.

The flying time between Sitka and Ketchikan was a short 33 minutes, and we were asked to stay seated and buckled up for the trip, and pre-warned the ride would be bumpy.

I used to get sweaty palms when I flew, but I’ve done so much of it, now I rarely feel anxious. But this time, I had some of my old anxiety back as we lurched through the air. I often wonder what level of turbulence would signal real danger. I don’t really want to know the answer, but in the moment, it could be comforting if I could say confidently, “Meh…this is nothing!” The best I’ve come up with is to assure myself that the pilots don’t want to go down anymore than I do, and if they don’t think it’s safe, they won’t attempt to fly. That’s the way it always works, right?

Anyway, we were getting closer to Ketchikan, coming down through cotton ball clouds. I had a window seat and kept wondering if we would see the runway or just feel the thump of the wheels touching down. We finally broke through the clouds and could see water and land below, but we were swaying and jostling so much it wasn’t really comforting to have a better visual.

Everyone got quiet, and in my head I was saying, “Just pull up, pull up. Really, I’m ok to go back to Seattle.” I wasn’t quite to the point of saying the words out loud, and of course the pilots couldn’t hear me anyway. But I was silently urging them on, hoping they were receiving my suggestions via telepathy.

Finally, the wheels connected with a hard thump, and we were down. Still swaying and lurching, and feeling like we were going waaayy too fast. I don’t know how some landings can seem so controlled, and others make you think you’re going to slam into something to bring the plane to a stop. There was a spontaneous outbreak of applause, so I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling just a¬†wee bit nervous. Good to know I wasn’t alone.

As I exited the plane, my thank you to the crew was a little more heart-felt than usual. I didn’t quite kneel down and kiss the ground, but I was just short of that.

Needless to say, my bags didn’t keep up with my plane switch. But oh well, what’s a couple of bags when you’ve landed safe in a small hurricane? And they’ll be along. At least they’re only a couple of stops up the “milk run.”

I’ve heard from more than a few people that¬†the Alaska Airlines pilots are the best in the business. Whether that’s true or not, they have my vote of confidence for routinely flying in the weather here. I’m sure it just keeps it interesting for them. Challenges their skills. But for those along for the ride, it’s a bit of an adrenaline rush. I might need to re-color my hair this week. And at least I made it home on the day I was planning to be back. Often, people get stuck for a day or two or more, just waiting to get a seat on a flight. And of course, if the delay is weather related, hotel and food costs are up to the passengers. The airlines don’t cover “act of God” delays.

I think I’ve decided: after living on an island for the past five years, I want to live somewhere that you can drive in and out of. I don’t mind to fly, most of the time. But I want options again.

Good to be home, in one piece, and finding my routine again. Good to survive the miracle of modern travel, and the sound and fury of Mother Nature!

It’s the small victories, really!

This week I had a minor triumph. For the first time ever, I had a $0.00 fuel oil bill.

I’m still kind of in shock.

Now you may think it odd that I would even be thinking of fuel oil bills…home heating oil bills…in early September, especially as I’ve been bragging the past few months about the amazing weather we’ve had all summer. I mean, I’ve wondered if SE Alaska has suddenly migrated over toward Hawaii, such has been our good fortune. This is the forecast I saw for this week:

September sunshine!

September sunshine!

Pretty sweet!

We get automatic fuel oil deliveries throughout the year. They’re scheduled to come every other month and top off the tank. Summer, even cooler summers, costs are lower. But with a furnace that runs year round…I don’t understand these intricacies, but apparently even when the thermostats are set to -10, the furnace kicks on to keep water in the boiler “pre-heated.” You know, in case the temperature suddenly drops in July, and we need to warm up immediately or something. This is what I gathered from the plumber/heater guy who understands these things…the one I hired to service the furnace back in June, and then asked to TURN THE MONSTER OFF! I figured if I couldn’t trick it into hibernating by turning the thermostats down to nothing, I’d pull out the big guns and just unplug.

The service guy warned me that we might see some leakage…apparently boilers…furnaces…whatever the monster in the basement is called…don’t like to go quietly. But I was determined to be free from heating costs, at least temporarily. So after the annual service, we took a deep breath and flipped the power switch.

Silence. Blissful silence! I love the sound of nothing running!

And no leakage. Not sure why I hadn’t thought to do this before. But so far, seems like we’re ok. We just stopped feeding the pig.

The real payoff came this week. I came home yesterday to find a little love note from the oil company on my basement door. That’s how it always happens. I’m having a normal day, feeling fine, and suddenly, POW! I see it. That little envelope that tells me the truck has been here. Stopped in front of my house, delivering fuel. Just when I’d gotten over the trauma of the last bill, they’ve done it again.

I say “trauma” because: ¬†you¬†never know.

Sometimes when the tank is filled, the bill is $400. I’ve seen it run $500. I think the highest love note I ever got was in the $800+ range. But I’ve mostly blocked that one from my mind…too painful to revisit with any regularity.

Mind you, these prices are just for the fuel oil. Electricity, water, sewer…those are all separate little joys that have their very own monthly bill. Not that I have a problem with that. I understand how utilities work. I use these services every month, I pay every month.

That’s what’s been so galling about the fuel oil bill…I don’t really use the furnace in the summer…so why have I been paying?

Well…the only answer I’ve come up with is that the boiler runs all the time, unless you turn it OFF. So now I know. This is the first house we’ve had with this type of heat, and you would know it would take me four years to figure this out. To be fair, several of the summers here could have passed as November, so probably not altogether unreasonable that we’ve had year-round heating costs. But still…fuel oil in July? That’s just wrong!

So yesterday…my little triumph:

Sweet!

Sweet!

Well…

Sure hope it comes back up in October when I flip the switch. But for now…aaaahhhh…just enjoying the sight of those little zeros! And best of all…the handwritten note on the side that says, “tank is FULL.”

Fresh from California

Biscoff spread. Has 5g of sugar so it's out of...

Biscoff spread. (Photo credit: programwitch)

So here I am, back in Ketchikan on Labor Day Monday, ready to work the rest of the week. My end-of-August flirtation with California sun and big beach hats is done, and I’m moving into work mode.

I got home today to find that summer is still here. That was a surprise. I haven’t seen the weather forecast for Ketchikan the past ten days, and I figured we’d used up all the available sunny days we’d be allotted for the season. But not true, there are several more on tap this week. I rode across on the airport ferry standing outside the cabin…that doesn’t happen often. My car was delicious, the warmth causing it to release its¬†lingering new car smell (after 4 1/2 years…that should tell you how much this vehicle is used!) My house was roasty and welcoming in the afternoon light streaming in the big front windows.

And to add to the summer temps lingering a little longer, I imported seasonal flavors to enjoy the next few days. We took frozen salmon down with us to grill while we were camping, and I made use of my emptied fish box to bring back tomatoes, corn, squash, peaches, and a jar or two of Biscoff Spread. (No, no, that’s not produce…just an item I can’t find in the local market.)Would you believe the last time I bought a jar of this delight and tried to bring it back with me in my carry-on luggage, TSA¬†took it from me?!¬† This stuff is definitely not a liquid. I was assured that the staff can’t consume anything they confiscate, they’re required to dispose of food. That’s almost worse than thinking of some stranger eating my Biscoff. Seems like a waste all around!

Of course I can buy all the fresh produce in Ketchikan. But the charming thing was that I bought it yesterday at a farm stand in California. Whenever I have the option of buying produce from a roadside stand, I’m drawn like a moth to flame. What¬†is¬†it about the farming heritage that makes produce at a farm stand more alluring than neatly stacked fruits and vegetables in a lovely market setting? I always think it’s my grandmothers’ farming blood singing in my veins. Although I’ve grown little beyond tomatoes and rhubarb and flowers, I like the¬†idea of farm fresh. Never mind that I have seen enough of the work side of gardening to know that it’s not the glamorous occupation it’s cracked up to be!

So, when it occurred to me that I could dine on home-grown tomato sandwiches all this week, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring up just a¬†few¬†things. A couple of guys at the airport this morning saw my fish box and wondered aloud why I was taking fish¬†to Alaska. You see these iconic cardboard boxes all summer as tourists and fishermen take home their catch, flash frozen and ready for travel. Well hey, I figured if the styrofoam-lined box can keep fish frozen on a trip down to the lower 48, it could keep veggies in good condition to travel back up. And I’m happy to report that I was right. All produce survived amateur transportation. My sandwich was¬†delicious!¬†I know I’ve waxed eloquent about my favorite summer feast before…just can’t help myself. A sign that I’ve had almost enough tomatoes is that I begin to get mouth ulcers from all the acidity after overindulging. But I’m not even close yet. Maybe after this week. It’s a painful condition for a day or two, and I’ve never been successful at timing…I only know I’ve had too many tomatoes when the little ulcers begin to appear. But this is my dedication: I’m willing to suffer for the mayonnaise-and-tomato-on-soft-white-bread symphony. Especially when the best flavor is only a summer treat.

We went to a huge flea market last week. Found a beautiful straw hat, very Audrey Hepburn style. I loved the hat so much I wanted to bring it home. But that seems a waste as it’s likely to get more wear when we’re RVing. Not really much occasion for Audrey big hats in Alaska. ¬†Well, this is not¬†exactly¬†how my hat looks. But it is lovely, take my word for it, and big enough I could have sailed a small vessel with it. Very useful for shading small countries that are lounging at the pool and have forgotten sunscreen.

15 apr 1963

15 apr 1963 (Photo credit: fred baby)

I also found a couple of elegant glass bottles for holding sparkling water or juice…whatever…really the contents don’t matter. My clear glass fetish kicked in and I was¬†compelled to buy these two lovelies. Rob just looks at me like I’ve grown a third eye or something equally hideous. He cannot understand my need for clear glass objects. Most of the time I control it very well. But let’s just say one day I’ll have a thing or two to leave some like-minded clear glass aficionado. You know who you are. I think I raised one of those people, so that will probably work out to be my son-in-law’s storage issue eventually.

So, home, treasures unpacked, and a few eaten, and on to next. September and pumpkins and all things fall. I had a maple latte at the airport this morning. Aaahhh, it begins!

Summer Scenes

Aahh, another beautiful day in sunny SE Alaska! I have to keep pinching myself to be sure this string of beautiful days is real. And here it is:

Today's weather

Today’s weather

Another week of sunny icons on my weather forecast. Another amazing Sunday full of sun and temps that invite us out to a picnic at Ward Lake, a hike after lunch along the lake path, errands, dinner on the deck…any excuse to stay outside and soak up the Vitamin D! All Alaskans have a Vitamin D deficit. But today…this summer…should help a bit.

This is a summer of fishing. Some seasons are better than others. We don’t own a boat. Sometimes we charter, or join friends who’re going out. Sometimes we buy our fish. But not so much this year. Between the fish Rob has caught, and the generosity of friends, we have a freezer full of fresh Coho salmon…a little King too. To me it’s all delicious. Some is smoked. Most of the bounty is just flash frozen, waiting to make an appearance at dinner a few months from now, when summer is only a warm memory on a rainy, blustery evening. Hey, even on a day like this I know October is coming.

Salmon portions

Salmon portions

Salmon filet

Salmon filet

All done!

All done!

Sometimes we use a local processing plant for prepping and freezing. Some fish I’ve done myself, using my trusty Food Saver vacu√ľm sealer. I never sealed anything before we moved here. I never heard of canning fish or meat before we moved to Alaska. My grandmothers canned vegetables, jams, preserves…all sorts of produce. But I never knew them to can meat or fish of any kind. We didn’t really have hunters in the family. But here, everyone cans fish. Actually they jar it. People process the stuff by the case. I don’t can anything. But I know how to freeze.

We watch the water in front of the house. This appeared a couple of days ago:

Yacht on the water

Yacht on the water

There is a constant parade in front of our windows. Summer is the season of float planes and fishing charters, sail boats, cruise ships and jet skis, kayaks and tour boats. Actually the float planes run year round, but they’re particularly busy in the summer. They start flying at first light.

We often sit in the early evening, looking out at the water, watching the all the coming and going. In spite of our ambivalence about living here, I sometimes think we’ll look back on these days and cherish them. We’ll remember how beautiful our view was, how there was always something happening in front of our windows. We’ll look back on the sunny afternoons and know that we had it good. We found a small, sweet spot in all the craziness of life.

My new favorite food

As I’ve mentioned recently, we’re having a real summer here in SE Alaska! This was from last week, but today’s weather looked just like this. (On my phone, anyway…it was a little less sunny in reality. But no rain!) ¬†If you know the Pacific Northwest, and SE Alaska, Summertime!you know how rare it is to have a week of sunshine in the forecast. Even more rare to have multiple weeks like that. And while we’ve had a few rainy days here and there, this is a summer to celebrate!

With summer comes grilling, and we’ve done a lot of that this month. I’ve been trying new recipes and decided to experiment with pizza on the grill. I’ve read about it, thought about it, and now, I’ve tried it. Let me tell you, it’s my new favorite thing. Worth doing, and so easy I wonder why I haven’t tried it before.

So here’s the way to do it:

There are lots of recipes to choose from. Here’s one I like:

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups (11 ounces) all-purpose flour*
3/4 cup (6 ounces) lukewarm water
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) olive oil

*Substitute Whole Wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour, if desired.

Method:

Mix all of the ingredients to make a soft, supple dough. Knead for 5 minutes, divide the dough in half, cover with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rest and relax for 15 minutes (or for up to an hour or so; work it into your schedule as you see fit).

Grease two 12″ squares of parchment paper. Use your greased fingers to press each piece of dough on the parchment into an 11″ to 12″ circle about 1/8″ thick. Brush or spray the crusts with olive oil, and let them rest for about 30 minutes, while you pre-heat your grill.

To make grilled pizza:¬†Be prepared to grill your pizza within 15 minutes of shaping it; you don’t want it to rise too much. So, make sure your barbecue grill is heated (or cooled) to medium-hot by the time the dough is ready to grill.

Set the rack 3″ to 4″ above the fire. Take one circle of dough, on its parchment, and swiftly but carefully turn it (dough down, parchment on top) onto the grill. Peel off the parchment.

After 1 minute, turn it over; it should be stiff enough to turn quite easily (if not, your grill isn’t hot enough). Layer with toppings. This is not the time to pile on the meat, cheese, veggies, etc. Since the pizza will be cooking very briefly, it’s better to top with just a minimal amount of stuff: thinly sliced veggies, a thin layer of cheese, etc.

Bake an additional 5 minutes or so, with the cover on (if your grill has a cover), or until the filling is hot and the cheese is melting. Adjust the temperature of the grill if the bottom is browning too quickly. And, move the pizza around on the grill if one side or the other starts to get too brown on the bottom. Repeat the grilling process with the other pizza.

We like veggie pizza. Marinated artichoke hearts, fresh sliced tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, peppers, red onion, salt and pepper over all, and top with a blend of shredded mozzarella and shaved parmesan…perfection! The pizza dough “bakes” up so light and airy on the grill it’s like eating something from a gourmet wood-fired pizzeria. The veggies get just slightly cooked so they taste incredibly fresh and keep a little of their crunchiness. The whole thing is warm and satisfying to eat, and so fast. I’m seriously thinking of making this again for the third time this week. Haven’t had my fill yet!

Summer rhythm

Look what I see!We’ve had a nice month, more sun and good weather than rain: a pleasant change from some of the past summers we’ve experienced in Ketchikan. Today we had cruise visitors, friends from Denver who were passing through Ketchikan on vacation. They had a few hours off the ship and we were able to show them around town, have lunch, catch up a bit. Stephanie and her little ones come next Saturday for a week.¬†We have other friends coming through on a cruise stop in July. In between we work, celebrate the Fourth of July, and enjoy fresh fish from this season’s catch.

Summer is peak time to be in Alaska. It’s the best season of the year here, no doubt. Fishing is the big sport, and cruise ships bring their passengers, day after day. Float planes fill the air. It’s a busy time in the Tongass Narrows space, air and water. And lucky for us, we have a front row seat. I start my day with strong coffee, a little sugar, a lot of cream, looking out the big windows in the sun room, watching the first ship of the day gliding into a berth on the docks below. I hear the float planes coming to life with their noisy engines; watch the first Alaska Airlines jet of the day come in for a landing across the water. It’s my favorite part of living here, the incessant activity of an early summer morning.

After a spring of travel, being in and out of town, I’m happy to have a stretch in one place. We’ll be in Ketchikan for the next several weeks, at least into August, and it makes stocking the fridge a worthwhile task. The front hedges are trimmed, the rhododendrons are pruned, I’ve weeded a bit, cleaned, reclaimed, opened the windows to let the fresh air in. After weeks away, the house is back in use, feels like home. Aahhh!

I’m busy with work. Both of the organizations we work with are implementing electronic health records. The IHS clinic is using one system, Ketchikan’s medical group is moving from one to another. Too crazy! I could not have guessed at this stage of my life that my work would revolve around this technology. But so it does. In the IHS clinic, my role has been more of a facilitator, a coordinator, of the process. I’m only involved in a small way with the technology itself. For the medical group here in Ketchikan, I’ve committed to become a super user. So far the pre-training modules I’ve viewed have focused on front office processes…not sure how much, if any, of the back office and provider side I’ll need to learn. The point to going through the training is to become a resource to assist and teach others. In any health care system there’s a fairly steady rate of turnover, so training will be ongoing. And as electronic health records are quickly becoming a mandatory feature in the world of medicine, learning two systems will be a useful addition to my fund of skills…great to have in my back pocket as I continue to mull over…just what do I want to do with my work life?

Well, work is work. Sometimes interesting, sometimes fun, but always work. In between hours at the office, I’m enjoying the pleasure of big moons in the sky, looking forward to seeing fireworks for the Fourth from my own front windows; eating dinners on the deck; learning a new work-out routine; excited to have a few days to snuggle little Riley and Jack; trying some new recipes for homemade ice cream and fresh pasta; working, still, or again, on my professional website; and planning the next several months of commitments. All good; all perfect for the rhythm of summer.

Last ship of the day

“M” is for Melting

This post is brought to you today by the letter “M,” a seemingly random alphabet selection, but actually quite relevant, as it represents my current body condition. Yes, I’m melting, just a few seconds at a time. At the youthful age of 52, I’m experiencing hot flashes. And let me tell you, for the first time in a long time, I want air conditioning! Not constantly, of course. I’m coming to know the sensation of a slow heat infusing my skin…really an interesting feeling, especially as I’ve been chilly most of my life. I’m the one with a light sweater when most of the rest of the world is ready for short sleeves. My last office was nick-named “the womb” because I kept it oh-so-toasty with a little space heater. Well, I do live in Alaska. And even in the southeast rainforest part of the state, there is a lot of chilly weather here. You don’t have to live in the Arctic to be cold in Alaska.

But that may be changing…who knows if my own personal summer will outlast the calendar pages? (Borrowed that phrase from a friend…the best description I’ve heard for this experience!) Well, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting for this…and now it’s finally happening. And I have to acknowledge: I’m just a wee bit sad…a little nostalgic. Not for a monthly event, but for what it represented. And even though I haven’t been able to kid myself for a while that I’m young, somehow, this transition seals more than just a chapter. Like the passage from full and busy motherhood to empty nest, something has changed, gone, and I won’t get it back. I can’t recover the time of life, the physical part of myself that is changing, literally moment to moment.

So I read about this phase of life…should I be taking hormones? Or look for natural supplements to mitigate symptoms and support good health? I have a nightly rhythm with my sheets…on, then off, then on again. Oddly, one of the biggest impacts I’ve noticed, aside from the actual sensation of the flash of heat, is the disruption to my sleep cycle. Hard to sleep soundly when I can’t decide: cover; no cover; cover; no cover. NO COVER!

Most houses in Ketchikan do not have air-conditioning. Just not necessary. And normally I would agree. Except that it’s June, and we’re having a real taste of summer here. Doesn’t happen every year. Some summers whiz by on a Tuesday, and if you’re stuck in a meeting, or out of town that day, you could miss the whole thing. (This has actually happened to me…pretty much went four seasons in a turtle-neck a couple of years since we moved here.) Well, this summer we’re doing a little better. And I’m thinking of where I can drive myself each afternoon when it really warms up. My car has air-conditioning. Safeway has air-conditioning. Wal-Mart is air-conditioned. I’m sure you see a pattern here. I’m looking for a little relief from the heat. Can’t believe those words just typed themselves onto my screen.

So far, Rob is still intact. I haven’t dissolved in a heap of emotion. I haven’t turned into a raging maniac. You hear stories about this transition. I don’t want to spin out of control, to feel I’ve unleashed the Kraken. Mostly I just want to be myself, the me I’m familiar with, good and bad, warts and all. I don’t want hormones, or lack of them, to define me. Can I be bigger than menopause? Ah, another use for the letter “M!” Well, you might as well have two for the price of one! And the alliteration is good. Melting menopause. Menopause melting. Works either way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go stand in front of my fridge. It’s the best I can do for air-conditioning at this time of night when my retail options are closed.

My Commute

Rob and I work part time in a small outpatient clinic in the community of Metlakatla, which is home to about 1,400 native Alaskans. Metlakatla is approximately 15 miles from Ketchikan, where we live, by water, via ferry, or about a 10 minute ride in a float plane.

I often grumble about the rainy weather of SE Alaska, but we do get postcard days as well. This was my commute a couple of weeks ago when I flew over for the day, via Pacific Air, a float plane company that provides service all over SE Alaska. I got the co-pilot seat, and this was my view. The first and last images are of Ketchikan, the community mid-way through the photos is Metlakatla. Really, this is the way to go if the sun is out and the sky is this blue!

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Mid-town Ketchikan

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This is a fishing community, lots of boats here!

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We start to tilt making the turn…

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Here we go!

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Flying over the muskeg.

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Muskeg and bogs.

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Cockpit view, Pacific Air.

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Blue water out my window.

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A little clearer view.

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Metlakatla in the distance.

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Getting closer…

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See the peaks coming into view?

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Tilting again.

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Shooting through the propeller.

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The horizon rights itself.

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The airport, Metlakatla style.

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Pacific Air sends a van to pick up and unload; my ride to the clinic.

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No wonder it’s so expensive to ship something here!

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The fish plant, mountains in the background.

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Whales play here in the summer.

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Water and sky are the same blue.

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Float plane dock.

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Close up of the fish plant. Love the mountain backdrop!

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Coming in!

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Smooth landing.

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Churning water.

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Taking off…

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Heading back over islands.

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Small islands are everywhere!

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Sights of the Inside Passage.

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Colors are amazing!

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Looking straight down…

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More peaks…these mountains are all around.

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Back to town.

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Coast Guard base is below.

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Ketchikan downtown docks.

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Getting a little reflection here.

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Water, homes, boats…it’s all here.

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Touchdown!

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Perfect view of Deer Mountain.

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Mountains across the Tongass Narrows.

I realized I didn’t get a photo of the clinic in this series. This is the Health Center of the Annette Island Service Unit. As you can see, the day this photo was made, the sky wasn’t quite so blue! This is the more typical weather-look for this region.

AISU Health Center

AISU Health Center

Fall sunshine

This was our forecast, here in SE Alaska, earlier this week. This would only be remarkable to folks who know this climate. October is statistically the¬†rainiest month in the year. We’ve had more days like this in October than we had in the summer! As it turned out, Thursday was sunny and beautiful. But now, Friday looks like a different story than this forecast predicted.

                                             Is this October?

                                      Sunset on Halloween

Today I flew over to Metlakatla to work.

                                        Airport in Metlakatla

This was my view on the flight back.

                                  View from the floatplane

Well, I think our luck is changing…looks like a little rain in the forecast…

                                            Back to normal!