July? No, October!

 

I can’t help myself. I have to say something about the weather in SE Alaska. The first full week of October, statistically the rainiest month of the year, has been beautiful! And we still have a few days of sunny icons on the weather map before the rain comes back. I thought we had missed summer this year. But it turns out, we’ve been here for a nice piece of it. I know it’s only a matter of time, and likely, the end of this month will make up for the beginning. But when you live in a rainforest, you have to appreciate any week that has more than a day or two of sunshine. And when that week comes in October…well, that sunshine is all the sweeter for being unexpected. Happy fall, y’all!

 

Hot!!

Hmmm…was it only a couple of weeks ago I was complaining about being chilly in July? Well, change of states, change of complaints! Let me tell you, Arizona and Nevada, which we’ve just driven through, are ovens! Not that this is a news flash to anyone…I just forget the impact of this heat until I’m experiencing it again.

We flew down to Phoenix last week and shuttled to Prescott, where the RV and Rob’s little pick-up have been stored. After almost a year of sitting, there were a few things to take care of. In spite of our best efforts to leave both vehicles travel ready…we even left solar panels plugged in to the batteries to keep those charged…we had two days of maintenance to deal with. Turned out that the RV batteries and the truck battery had to be replaced, and we had some other minor repairs. Got the oil changed in both vehicles, and made a run to the grocery. This is a house on wheels, you know, so it has to be stocked.

We have a class C RV, which Rob drives…I think I’ve driven a total of about 10 miles, on a straight stretch, and that will be my first and last…I’ve told him if anything happens to him, the RV is a goner…I won’t be driving myself around the country, thank you very much! I’m driving the little pick-up. These vehicles traveled down from Alaska separately, and we’ve never traveled extensively using them together. After taking a good look at the cost to add a towing package to the RV and the truck, we decided it is more practical to caravan. Not ideal, but worth it to have a separate vehicle for exploring when the RV is set up at a campsite.

So…we are driving, in July, through the desert Southwest. Our goal is northern California, southern Oregon. We want to do some exploring in those regions. But first, we have to get there. As long as we are driving with the AC on, there is the illusion that the weather is pleasant, the sun is just a nice accent to the day. But stop for a few moments, get out and feel the absolute roasting heat and the almost physical impact of the sun, and I wonder, again, how anyone managed to settle this country. How does anyone who has to work outdoors do it? Is there anyone who lives here without air conditioning? And if so, how?  I have a pretty high tolerance for heat, and I rarely sweat. Let’s just say in this heat I need a little more antiperspirant than usual. So if I’m feeling it, I know it’s bad.

Hoover Dam Overlook, Nevada

The views are spectacular. The terrain varies so much…it’s mostly desert, but there are stretches that have more vegetation, more mountains. There are areas that look like moonscape. But it’s all big, huge, massive. No doubt about it, this is an astonishing land. Photos don’t do it justice, not by a long shot.

Driving through, I’m filled with admiration. Sometimes for the scenery, but mostly for the people who made it here. I always come back to the same thought: I would have been a failure as a pioneer. I would have been a cautionary tale with a marker along the wagon trail.

But there were obviously many people who were successful, and it is thanks to them that we can drive through now and find roads, restaurants, gas stations (although there are some stretches that have signs posted…the next gas is 70 miles, 100 miles, etc.). On one lonely stretch in Nevada, we missed a turn and had to decide…go on to the next opportunity for gas, or turn around and try to get back to the last one? I was beginning to see the buzzards circling…And this was in an area that my phone discouragingly said “no service.” Hard to believe there are places where cell phones don’t work, in 2012!

Happily for us, we made it to the next town, the next gas. No need for dramatic rescue. But it does make you realize the heat and isolation are real, and not to be taken lightly.

I had a similar epiphany when we lived in the Arctic…amazing that people survived, and even flourished. I have talents, but I don’t think mine extend to outsmarting the cold, or the heat. So I’m just grateful to have come along at a time when these challenges were already conquered, and be thankful for heaters in Alaska, and in the desert, thrilled to have air conditioning.

Mono Lake, Lee Vining, CA

And we’re off!

Let the summer begin!

It really did begin this week here in SE Alaska. Ketchikan has been mostly sunny, even warm, the past several days. I’m happy to report that my heat is off and my sandals are on! Of course it won’t last…this is a rainforest, you know…but we got enough of a break this week that doors to businesses stood open letting in cool air. My front bannister and stoop were painted, my hedge trimmed, gutters cleaned…it was outdoor work weather for a change! And for the first time in months, I didn’t want a blanket on my bed.

Tomorrow we leave for what I’m affectionately calling our “summer ramble.” This is partly an exploratory trip, partly a relocation for the RV, and we’ll get in some family time too. But mostly it is recovery time, and planning time. Working in bursts as we have been doing tends to be somewhat draining. The work is good, and of course we need income, so thank God we are able to work. But you do feel a bit like you’ve run a marathon when your work life becomes condensed. Working 40 hours a week for one organization, and doing projects in between for another one leaves me feeling pooped. It was good, all good. Energizing, busy, productive…but now I’m done, for another glorious stretch.

This time will fly by, I know. But I’m going to try to savor it, slow it down, not plan it all away. We already have some dates marked on the calendar. I want to protect the rest of the time and see what develops…see where we roam, see what we come up with. That’s really the best part of down time…the serendipity of deciding what to do, a day at a time, or an hour at a time.

We plan to resurrect our camping skills. And we need to strategize a bit. We’re making life up as we go, and we need to map out the coming months. Working episodically gives a lot of freedom. But it also limits income, and you have to balance both needs…need for down time and flexibility, and the need for income.

So we’ll talk, and plan, and recover. And then magically, the days and weeks will evaporate and we’ll be back, working again. That’s good too. But before I get ahead of myself, I have to take a few minutes to enjoy the thought…we’re off tomorrow…let the summer begin!

My heat is on!

What is wrong with this picture?! It is July 1, and my heat is on! Oh, we’ve had some beautiful sunny warm days already. But they don’t last. You get a taste of summer, convince yourself tomorrow will be just as nice. And then, just like that, you go from July back to March or April. Just when I think I’m finally going to wear something “summery” more than one day at a time, the sun disappears and the jackets reappear.

And worst of all, the summer months that should give me a break from paying a fuel oil bill are likely to be little better than the rest of the year. And how do you know the fuel oil tanker has topped off your fuel oil? You come home to find a little love note on your door…a small ticket printed with the amount of fuel you got, and the total you owe. Let me tell you, I dread seeing those notes on my door. Every other month or so, I get a five or six hundred dollar happy when the fuel truck visits. Ouch!

Of course, part of the problem is that I’m in Southeast Alaska. I seem to fret about weather a lot. But you just can’t fathom how the weather impacts you, until the season you’re waiting for fails to appear. Or appears only in fits and starts…you can’t get a rhythm going, can’t forecast a cookout for the weekend, even if Tuesday is beautiful. Because by Saturday, you may want hot chocolate.

I’ve experienced the opposite problem…I know there are plenty of places where you run an air conditioner eight or nine months of the year. I’ve been in Palm Springs in July when even I (a lizard at heart who would like to spend significant time sunning on a rock) could barely walk from mister to mister in the shopping district without collapsing. Now that’s hot!  But at least you know what you’re getting. Those climates are much more consistent. I’ve had a painter lined up to do some work on the exterior of my house for six weeks, and he can’t get three days in a row that are dry enough to work!

I don’t like air conditioning…but living with temps in the 50s is not much fun either.

Well…I’m trying to re-direct myself….let’s see…

Ok, the humidity is good for my skin. And this is magical humidity that doesn’t feel humid, so that’s a big plus.

The rain and cool temps are great for many growing things…this island is as green as Ireland…indeed, we are an emerald isle, though I’ve never heard that term applied. But green is everywhere, and the foliage is lush.

I think this must be a good climate for fish. Fish are everywhere. These waters are teeming with salmon and halibut, among many other species.

I don’t have to pay for air conditioning. Don’t even have an air conditioner. The air conditioner in my car has been on half a dozen times in three and a half years of living here.

That’s it…I can’t think of anything else positive about the climate here. Did my best. Right now I just want warm, dry, and sunny! Wish I could send all this rain and cool temps to Colorado and the other states that are on fire. Feast or famine, that’s life!

Summer day, summer planning

It’s almost 8:00 pm, but the sun is still bright. Here in Alaska, the summer sky stays light later and later, until you only have a brief time of true darkness. The summer evenings are long…really the afternoon is just elongated until 9:00, 10:00 at night, when twilight falls. Mornings begin about 4:00, with the light peaking in the bedroom windows, waking us up, causing us to turn into the pillows, burrow under the cover, block out the too-early dawn.

This is the season of activity, or increased activity, here in Ketchikan. The big cruise ships are once again in town on a daily basis, the seasonal businesses are open, and the fishing tourists are here in force. Not for nothing is Ketchikan the salmon capital of the world. And the fish know it. Soon I’ll be freezing salmon and halibut, vacuum sealing the fish I buy from local vendors, putting a little of this Alaska treasure away for coming months.

I look out and see the rain falling through the sun, a rainbow is on the distant horizon, and the sun and shadows fall mixed across my living room floor, even as I listen to the sound of the rain pouring out of the gutters. This is the season when the rain doesn’t feel too cold, and the showers are more gentle than the downpours we get in the fall.

My little front garden…my secret garden, I call it, because the small space in front of the house is enclosed with a shaped hedge…has blossomed with the warmer weather, and now looks a little overgrown and in need of a trimming. My rhubarb, tucked away in a corner of the little square, has flourished, and I’ve already cut it twice. There are small blue flowers growing, and the lilac has leafed out, getting so bushy it has hidden the street number mounted on the house. I’ll have to cut the lilac back if I want FedEx to find me with future deliveries. The clematis vines I planted (to replace the one that died from January’s week of single digit temperatures) are growing and already climbing the trellis.

I have painters coming this month to repaint the garage door, sand and paint the front step bannister, and touch up any exterior walls that are showing signs of wear. This is an old home, “historic,” built in 1920, and although it has been remodeled periodically, the exterior is still a wood siding. That translates to a lot of painting, over the years, and though we can get by this summer, maybe even another year, with touch ups, our turn is coming. Yes, we’ll get to paint, or pay to have someone paint, all three stories of this fine old place. Can’t wait for that one!

We now have two sump pumps and a dam in the back corner of the basement. I cautiously believe the episodic appearance of a lake down there has ended. We won’t know for sure until the fall rains, but we sustained some pretty wet weather this spring. The concrete dam joins the other great oddity of the basement, the huge granite boulder that the house sits on, jutting out into the unfinished portion of the bottom floor, reminding me that this island is indeed a rocky place, and some of the rock was too large for early builders to remove. So they built around it, and over it.

I make my list of chores to complete in the next few weeks. It’s June already, and summer is here. We leave to go “down” for a summer ramble (read rv road trip) July 14. We’ll be back mid-September. We’re hunting for “next,” doing some casual but focused exploring during the time we’re away. But first, my lists have to be made, checked off as I work through them. I’m working for income the next several weeks, storing up like a squirrel saving nuts for winter. But there’s more too. I have indoor and outdoor to-dos; weeding and writing; sorting, cleaning, thinning, organizing. I love this time of renewal, preparation, expectation. I’m not just cleaning out my fridge or trimming my hedge, or writing a blog post: I’m ordering myself, preparing for “next.” When I do the physical chores, or have a burst of creativity that allows me to write, I’m clearing my thoughts, centering myself. I’m rising, like the Alaska sun in the early morning, eager to begin my parade of adventures, wherever they take me.

Miami

I started this blog as a vehicle to record random grace notes in my life, and as I observed these moments occurring around me. Some posts live up to that vision more than others. Recently, this has been more a travel journal, although a very sporadic one. And it has been, at times, a chronicle of how I/we (Rob and I) migrate toward a next home, and a redefined work life.

Today is another post on travel. But really, isn’t the best travel about grace notes? And the unexpected pleasures you find along the way? So I tell myself, I’m not really straying too far from my theme, right?

So, Miami. We chose to spend our last full week away from Alaska (heard from a friend there today…it is snowing!) in the south of Florida, partly because you can never get enough sun when you live in a rain forest, and partly to look a little closer at this region of the country. We’ve done the beach, lounged by the pool, sampled some local fare, and today we’re driving down to the Florida Keys. But that’s another post.

Miami in March is warm, actually in the perfect temperature range. Sunny and warm enough to be pleasant, but not too hot, and the humidity is about right. Most of the days have been clear, perfect for being out and about, whether meandering down one of the shopping/dining districts like Lincoln Road Mall or Ocean Drive, or strolling along the beach.

We’ve sampled some great food. Cuban food is everywhere, but this is a cosmopolitan city, so you can find great food of any cuisine you like. The local restaurants we’ve visited have been good, not necessarily expensive, but authentic. I Google “best…” and read reviews to see where to go for the best Cuban sandwich, burger, etc., in Miami. People – reviewers – are amazingly frank and generous in giving their opinions, sharing the good and bad. A plethora of restaurants along Ocean Drive have outdoor dining. You can also find an amazing variety on Lincoln Road Mall, everything from Italian to Sushi to pub grub. Eating outdoors is a particular pleasure in this season because it is warm. Not hot. Warm. And if the evening gets even the slightest bit chilly, the big outdoor patio warmers appear, and then it is warm again. Mmmmm, my favorite.

We’ve had the benefit of Google maps to help us navigate the city, so haven’t gotten too lost. The traffic has been good in the evenings, not so good during the day. This is a metropolis, after all, and a big one. The drive into Miami Beach from Doral, where we’re staying, is lengthy, up to an hour, depending on traffic. Driving over during the day, you get a beautiful view of the waterways and the huge skyscraper buildings that are iconic to downtown Miami.

The historic Art Deco section of town is amazing, with old buildings that have been lovingly preserved or restored to perfection. You can learn about celebrities of the past who used to stay in this hotel, or frequent this restaurant. There are restaurants and night spots, upscale stores and tourist traps, positioned randomly throughout the district. Imagine my surprise at seeing a “Duck Tour” bus yesterday (amphibious vehicles that take tourists around town and into the water.) Ketchikan has Duck Tours too. You walk down the streets of Miami Beach and see a mix of people, the ones who are obvious tourists, like us, and the “beautiful people,” the rich young residents of this area who typify the South Beach look. And there are the hawkers who are trying to persuade you to come in to their restaurant, shop their store, buy cigars. Yes, cigars. There are actually cigar girls, who stroll around with boxes of cigars for sell. Makes me think of old artwork I’ve seen or magazine ads that show “cigarette girls” from some long-ago era. But this is today, and they are selling cigars. We actually watched cigars being hand-rolled at a street shop. Very labor intensive.

Little straw fedora hats are in style here, for both men and women, and huge heels. I’m fearful for some of these women walking around on the heels I’ve seen. Now, I like a good heel as much as any short woman, and in my work environment, or any time I go out “dressed up,” I wear heels. Just part of the look. But I’m talking about a whole new animal here. These women are on stilts!

Clothing is all over the place. I see a lot of long (I mean floor length) knit dresses that are worn any time of day. On the other end of the spectrum, yesterday I saw a string bikini that gave new meaning to the word “string.” And prices of swim suits…I looked at a few that were in the $200 range…nothing special. I know Miami Beach is a high rent district, but still…there are a few stores in the area that haven’t heard of recession.

Well, if you visit in March, be prepared. You’ll want to reserve in advance (this is spring break season, you know). And if you’re driving, be prepared to park and walk for a while. We parked a few blocks away from the beach yesterday, but to really experience Ocean Drive, or the Art Deco district, or any of the other major downtown areas, you need to walk. Taking in the sights, sampling a little of this, a little of that…you can almost feel like you’re one of the “beautiful people.”

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Winter calling

Monday, January 23, and we’re back in Craig. Rob is doing a last round of work at the clinic here before the new “permanent” provider arrives in mid-February. “Permanent” (in the Alaska healthcare world) is the hopeful term for individuals who accept a position without a defined end date. Of course “permanent” with this usage really means that most likely, the position will be filled for a year or two. Sometimes people stay longer, but you never know. So providers who travel fill the gaps. I’m working in the front office. I don’t do clinical; I don’t do blood!

We came over from Ketchikan last night, arriving in a soft snowfall. Prince of Wales looks to have about the same levels of snow that Ketchikan has. What a week it has been for SE Alaska! This is the rain forest, we are not accustomed to bitter cold here. Often in the winter months, the average temperatures are in the 30s and even 40s. Last week, Ketchikan was in single digits, with winter storm warnings and heavy snow accumulation for the end of the week.

We live in a house built in 1920. It has been remodeled and updated over the years, but still…can you guess where this is going? I felt quite smug all week, hearing about frozen pipes and weather related issues, relieved that I wasn’t dealing with any of that. Until Friday morning, when I realized the water source for the washing machine was frozen. I put a small space heater in the laundry room to try to warm things up a bit, went off to my relief job in the Primary Care clinic, hoping to have things restored when I got home. It was a minor inconvenience. But the best was yet to come. Friday afternoon, when we pulled into our parking space at the house, I got out of the car and saw water gushing out from an exterior basement wall. I rushed in to see where the water was coming from and found the floor partially covered. I could hear the sound of running water and see the water level rising. A pipe in an exterior wall had frozen, and we were developing a small lake.

A few hours later, we had a claim in with Allstate, a plumber (thank you, Cory, for coming out so quickly!) had capped the pipe and restored water to the rest of the house, and the process of drying out had begun. There wasn’t any visible damage. Of course we haven’t been through the final repair process yet. The plumber said his company had so many calls last week, they were only doing emergency fixes. Cap the pipes, come back and do the full repair later. So I don’t know if there is damage within the wall, or how involved the repair will be. But our initial cleanup consisted of drying out a rug and mopping up. Oh, and paying the bill, which I expect to be just under our deductible, so likely we’ll get to pay the full amount. But I’m not complaining. If we hadn’t gotten home when we did, it could be much worse. Or more frightening to contemplate, what if it had happened this week?! I don’t like to think about pipes when we’re out of town. But that’s what insurance is for, right?

So, the washing machine thawed out in time to do laundry to travel, we are mostly dried out in the basement, and we’re back in the mid-30s now. Hopefully no more single digit temps, particularly while we’re out of town.

All of this just helps me appreciate the routine, the normal, the every day. It is very unsettling to realize you have a potentially major problem on Friday afternoon when you are planning to be out of town and can’t be home to address the issue. This was one of those times when I just wanted to turn the clock back a few minutes and have my to-do list from an hour ago.

Well, tis the season. Winter storms, delayed or canceled flights, pipes and snowy roads…all part of the joy. Funny, snow is so perfect around Christmas when it adds to the ambience and puts the finishing touch to the holiday atmosphere. But in January? Not so fun. After spending most of my adult life in winter climates…Colorado and Michigan and Alaska…I’m beginning to understand why people eventually want to live in year round warmth. I’m not there yet. I still like four seasons. But frozen pipes and washing machines definitely color my thinking! Or maybe I’m just ready for a week on a beach.

Well, off to work. And oh, the temperature is 35 degrees. It’s going to be a great day!

Craig, Aaska, take two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer? Did I miss it?

Well, well, August 19th, and another cool rainy weekend in the forecast. I’ve definitely had the “summer was on a Tuesday” experience this year. I remember one of the summers we lived in Michigan was like that. You kept telling yourself, believing, that any day now, the full force of sun and warmth would arrive and the glorious summer weather would bring all things good…outdoor cookouts, trips to the park, bike riding, ball games. But no, nothing, it just fizzled before it ever got off the ground. Like this one.

Oh sure, you try to keep up appearances. Can’t tell you how many days in the past few months I’ve worn something more suited to Arizona, complete with a sweater or windbreaker or jean jacket…whatever COAT was best paired with my summer garb. I couldn’t face going through the summer months wearing turtlenecks. But with only a few exceptions, I could have done it and been very comfortable during June, July, and now August. I’m hoping for a bit of an Indian summer season in September. But who am I kidding? I might as well be unpacking my corduroys and wool right now.

20110819-062943.jpg With the exception of a few days spent in California and Arizona (alright, that was a bit warm, even for me), we’ve sailed right past spring and into October. Honestly, some of the rains we’ve had have been wicked! Thank goodness my leak in the bathroom appears to be fixed. (You know the repair has been successful when you forget to check each time it rains.) Many days the temps hover in the 50s. Twice in the next week we’re supposed to hit 60! And this is August!

Raspberries have been impacted by all the wet, or cool, or something. All I know is that the other summers we’ve lived here we’ve had lots of berries on the vines behind the house. This year, there was a dismal, one-cup crop. Yesterday I noticed a few leaves already turning.

Ok, I know for anyone outside Alaska reading this, it sounds petty. I’ve seen the news about the heat wave and the dry spell much of the lower 48 has been living through, and I know my frustration must seem un-imaginable to many. But trust me, if you heard your heat kick on in August, or decided to put your electric blanket back on the bed before Labor Day, you’d be complaining too.

Most days this cruise season, I’ve felt sorry for the poor tourists, trying to have a good time in a downpour. I’ve hardly had a chance to run the AC in my car. I have brats in the fridge. But I need the right atmosphere. I can’t enjoy grilling out when all I want to do is go inside to warm up.

So that’s my lament for late August. What happened to summer? If you find it, please send it my way. It’s not too late.