View of the road

When I was a kid we did road trips. Lots and lots of road trips.

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I mostly had my nose in a book on those journeys. My dad always had music on, my mom always brought snacks, and the kids brought books.

My dad loved national parks, and if our travels took us anywhere near a park, we had to stop.

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Had to.

Driving anywhere can be an interesting experience if you’re paying attention.

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But in those days I rarely looked up. I sat in the back seat, or even in the “way back” of the family station wagon. The view was mostly a sibling’s profile, also buried in a book. I remember my dad getting irritated with us, that we were missing the scenery he was so enchanted to see. He was hauling us all over the country, and we might as well have been at home.

Sometimes there’d be a sight to bring us to the surface, out of our respective novels, and we’d stare out the window at a passing scene, or get out of the car and troop into a national park headquarters, dutifully learning about the history or geography, or whatever made this particular spot noteworthy.

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Now, a few decades later, I sit in the front. I never read. I mostly stare out at the landscape, passing by at 50, 60, or 70 miles an hour. Sometimes we pull over so I can snap a photo or two, or twenty. I’m always on the watch for a great diner, local color, a beautiful view, a charming town.

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I love road trips.

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Sometime between childhood and now I grew to appreciate the freedom and the variety of driving. I never get bored, and it almost doesn’t matter where we begin, or where we end. I just love the whole thing, from first to last.

I fly a lot these days, for work, and sometimes for pleasure. Sometimes the only way to get where I’m going is on a jet.

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But if I have a choice? I’ll pick the road, every time. There’s nothing like it, and never will be. The great American love story is with the road, and I’m happy to be out there, wondering what’s around the next bend, where we’ll stop to eat, what new thing we’ll see.

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It is an amazing country, and a gorgeous one.

Driving today, I thought about my dad. I wish I could tell him: I learned to look up. I learned to see what’s in front of me, to appreciate the beauty, the romance, the wonder of the road.

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I think he’d smile, and be proud I finally got it.

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A day in the life

Yesterday we ended a month at one work site and began a week at another one. This is such a short stay it will fly by, and then we have a time out.

We started the morning with clean up. It’s my routine to leave the temp housing ready for the next guest, and I also leave a few things tucked behind for the next trip. There’s always a bit of sorting and tossing to do, and between packing and tidying, departure days start early.

The weather was a factor. We were scheduled to fly out via float plane, but the winds were too high, so we had a last-minute switch to the ferry. The tricky part is managing luggage between ferry and airport without a vehicle, when there are several errand stops between the two. We had to revise the plan. The only thing to do was drop the luggage at the airport first so we could navigate the stops without a struggle.

We had most of the day to spend in Ketchikan, the big city that offers a few more amenities than the small islands where we’re working. Hair cut, shopping, lunch, and mail pick up were all on the list.

Here’s where the frustration of the Ketchikan airport comes in. To drop off luggage for the afternoon flight we had to catch the airport ferry to a different island. (I’m always irritated that the airport is on a different island than the community. A five-minute crossing separates the two islands.) The ferry runs twice each hour, and everything is about timing. So we came off the state ferry like a small traveling circus, four roller bags, two back packs, and my purse, which this go-round is one of those large summer beach bags.

(Yes, my purse is really like a small child that travels with us. Can’t be left alone, is about the same size as a five-year-old, and has to have its own seat on the plane. I could store other small beings in it, it’s that roomy. You get the idea. 🙂 )

With about 15 minutes to the next airport ferry run, we took a cab from the state ferry terminal down the street, made it to the airport ferry dock, crossed over, dropped the luggage off, and came back to the Ketchikan side. Thanks to the timing of the airport ferry, that only took an hour.

Then, because it was only raining lightly, we opted to walk.

If you’ve ever come to Ketchikan on a cruise, or just happened to wander there for some other reason, you’ll know that the main thoroughfare of the community is Tongass Avenue, which runs the length of the town and extends out to either end of the island. The stretch in town is probably between two and three miles, and we didn’t have to walk that whole way.

We had a strategic route to hit the four stops we needed to make and get back to the airport ferry in time for the 3:15.

First, we needed to pick up mail. At this point, there’s not a lot of mail that accumulates. We take advantage of all the online bill paying options and notifications available. But there’s always something in the box, and we check it anytime we’re in town. Occasionally we have mail forwarded, but at $20 a pop to have mail sent to us, when most of what collects is just the junk, it’s worth the stop if we’re passing through.

We got that done. There was a replacement debit card in the pile of catalogs, fliers, and otherwise very-important stuff, so worth the stop. Then it was on to the really critical stop: haircut and eyebrow waxing.

I love a good brow wax. When I started doing this for myself a few years ago, it was a fun little tack-on to my regular hair cut. Little did I know that it would come to be a necessity in time.

Have you ever tried to pluck your eyebrows wearing glasses?! I can’t do it with them on, and I certainly can’t do it without! Not that I need a lot done. But it’s nice to get that silky smooth feeling every few weeks, and know that someone with better vision than me is cleaning up my brow line.

Bear with me…I know this is a first world problem, but these are the little chores you have to think about when you spend a lot of time on small islands without some of the niceties of life readily available.

After the grooming session, I wanted to look for a new rain jacket.

If you know anything about SE Alaska, you know it’s rainforest. I know, that’s surprising. Rainforest isn’t usually associated with Alaska. But it’s so. Rain here is measured in feet, not inches. As in, Ketchikan gets an average of 13 feet of rain each year.

So rain gear is a good thing.

My last jacket’s been showing signs of wear, getting a little thin in spots, and I just found a rip in a seam. Time to replace.

In case you haven’t been shopping for rain gear lately, let me tell you, you can spend hundreds of dollars on a name brand. The most expensive (and ugliest) option I saw was a mere $500. I’m not kidding! It was hideous and outrageous. That’s a pretty good feat, for rain gear.

I looked at several brands…Columbia, North Face, some knock off labels, and wound up with a Helly Hansen jacket. It’s sort of a bright salmon color (appropriate: Ketchikan is the salmon capital of the world) and was a mere $100. A bargain among the other options, and I’ll be easy to spot half a continent away! 🙂

Then, on to lunch. When restaurant options are limited on the small islands where we work (that’s a generous way to express it) a lunch date is something to look forward to.

That’s one thing that island life does for you…you learn to appreciate so many things that are commonplace in the lower 48.

I appreciate road trips, and having my own car, variety of services and shopping, options of all kinds. Often, here, if there is one of anything…grocery or any type of store or service…there’s only one.

Of course it’s our choice to work in these environments, but still. Nice to have variety.

So lunch…crab cakes and king crab, smoked salmon chowder and yummy bread, a Marion berry buckle dessert, and a friendly waiter to fetch it all.

We left the restaurant with about half an hour to get back to the airport ferry for the run across to the airport. We didn’t make it too far before giving in to the faster option of a cab. Even without luggage we didn’t have time to walk it.

One more ferry ride, then check in with the small inter-island airline for the afternoon flight.

We made it to our next place by early evening, unpacked at the apartment, and squeezed in a grocery run for the week. Funny how the routines of home keeping follow you around, even in temporary lodging.

Epic? Grand adventure? Not really. But I learn, I discover, I savor.

Just another day in the life. The good stuff.

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Afternoon flight

Afternoon flight

One of Alaska's creepy crawlies

One of Alaska’s creepy crawlies

More Alaska

Last week, one evening after work, we found a new park. It shouldn’t be a surprise by now, but I’m still caught off guard every time I discover an unexpected jewel. This is what we saw:

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The totem poles are iconic for native Alaskan culture, particularly of the Southeast tribes. I see them in the Pacific Northwest too. Each one tells a story, and the individual carvings on the poles have meanings. Their stories are beyond my ability to interpret, but they’re fascinating to see. There are a few carvers today that create these works of art, celebrating heritage and culture from the past.

This has been a traveling week. It began Monday with all sorts of bumps and changes. Weather was an issue…foggy and rainy, so the planned float plane trip to the airport became a ferry ride.

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At the airport, the flight had a mechanical issue, so that meant a change to another airline.

There were two connections along the way, and the last leg was one of the near misses, walking off one flight and immediately on to the next.

But we made it. Luggage made it. We started early and ended late, but even with the glitches, it all smoothed out.

Just like I like it. I love it when life works out, even with lots of opportunity for disaster.

And let’s face it…a missed flight or delayed travel rarely rises to the level of disaster. But I speak of first world problems, in which case, descriptions of near misses in everyday situations are counted as near disasters.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll acknowledge that I know the difference. But for literary license, we skirted disaster all day and somehow came through with flying colors. Those airline folks are amazing!

I’ve been making more photos of Southeast Alaska this summer…do you get tired of them? I sometimes take for granted the views and sights that surround me. But they’re worth sharing, I think.

So this is my latest group of scenes. One day I’ll look back on this time and be surprised I was here, and saw all these things. One day this will seem surreal. But for now, these are the images of daily life.
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I’m doing a personal development course this coming week, beginning today, and one of the requirements is being off line. So, no cell phone use, no lap top. It makes me a little anxious to turn off, to be out of touch. What if something happens? What if someone needs me? Family has a contact number for the retreat center, and I expect the rest of the world will hardly notice I’m gone. Maybe as much as turning off and tuning out helps the individual to focus, it’s also a reminder…I’m one person, and the world can get along very well without me for a few days. I’m valuable, as all people are. But perspective is helpful, and a reminder that I’m not indispensable is a good thing, I’m thinking.

Wish me luck, I’m diving deep!

See you next week!

The Good Lives On

I recently found this poignant story of a woman whose talent for photography was discovered after her death. You can scroll through the linked slide show to see some of her beautiful work.

Discovering Vivian Maier

What’s striking, beyond the technical beauty of the photos, is the theme that comes through in so many of them: glimpses of every day scenes from city streets, a look into the lives of people who must have been strangers to Vivian, but were captured in a flash of time and old fashioned black and white film. And now these people have their moment of fame, because Vivian Maier is finally being celebrated as an artist.

Vivian Maier was a nanny for 40 years, and I’m sure that the impact of her life on the children she cared for is still being felt, because what we do matters, whether we are “discovered” or not, famous or not.

Her photography was discovered because her possessions were auctioned off before she died.

Today her work would make her rich.

Well, perhaps it did make her rich in her lifetime. It’s possible we just can’t recognize the currency of that wealth to her.

I rarely watch the Oscars. Usually I haven’t seen many of the movies up for awards, and that’s certainly the case this year.

But tonight I’ll be watching, and hoping that the film that celebrates this woman’s work, and life, wins the award for best documentary. It will be a good thing to see a life marked and honored, the work of a woman who saw a lot more than anyone guessed.

This story makes me think: what am I doing that will live on? What do I do that may seem insignificant to me, but still matters, touches lives, leaves a mark?

We all leave marks.

Some lives burn brighter and seem bigger than others. That’s part of the draw of an event like the Oscars…a peek into the world of celebrity. It’s a world most people only know from the outside, looking in.

But Vivian’s story hits home. I’m making photos every day…not like the ones she captured, but snapshots of my life, my touch on the lives around me. And my work has an imprint.

What would that look like if it was suddenly viewable, put on the screen for the world to see?

I hope it would be as beautiful as these photos, and capture the right moments.

I click through the images in the slide show, and I think to myself: give us eyes to see the real, and the important.

 

Birthday joys

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

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

Looking across the valley

Looking across the valley outside Healdsburg, CA

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Chateau Montelena, Calistoga, CA

Harvest time!

Harvest time!

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

Aaahhh.

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

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

Aaahhh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A visual feast

There are so many amazing photography sites, blogs, resources…I almost refrained from posting a link to this collection. But I couldn’t resist the beautiful and surprising and haunting images here. Any collection of photos featured by Smithsonianmag.com, the digital home of the Smithsonian Institution, is worth a look. Or two. This is the 11th Annual Photo Contest for the site, and readers are invited to select their favorites.

 

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Photograph by Stefano Coltelli (San Miniato, Italy). FINALIST: Travel |                                                                   Neist Point Lighthouse at dusk. (Isle of Skye, United Kingdom, August 2013,

View, enjoy, vote!

~ Sheila

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Chasing rainbows in the Caribbean

Periodically, for various reasons, life needs a reset. We are in one of those times now, and have been for a while. We began our Alaska adventure in 2006, and through ups and downs, good and bad, it has been an adventure. But now we find ourselves ready for a new address, one that is drier, warmer, and has potential to be a long-term home for us. We started this process last year, but a slow housing market and our own indecision derailed us a bit. We’re ramping up to try again this spring.

Most people (I think) make the decision of where to live based on job, family, or some combination of likes and life needs that help to narrow the focus and direction. We did too, in the past. We moved for training and jobs, and we looked for opportunities in regions of the country that we wanted to explore. Family is important, but with family spread far and wide, from east to west and across time zones, it is difficult to use family, at this point, as a filter. We find ourselves without a lot of anchors. We certainly know what states and regions draw us, interest us, and there is temptation to re-visit the places we lived in the past that we enjoyed. But we also know that it is important to make a good decision, and that means taking time, doing our homework, and looking beyond the most obvious options.

To complicate the process, we still have a house to sell in Ketchikan, where the market in our price range is not robust. And we will likely continue to work there for the foreseeable future. We are networked, and known entities, which is important when you work like we do. We can search without the house being sold. And as we have an episodic work style, we can structure time to travel and investigate in our time off. The downside to not working is that we don’t get paid. There is no paid leave in our work structure. But the upside is that we can put together significant blocks of time for exploring our options.

There are all sorts of online tools to help you. There are lists for every type of filter you can think of…low tax rate, health care facilities, climate, population, amenities, recreation, mountains, beach, schools, organizations…choose your priorities and you can find a list of places that will accommodate your must-haves and your wish-fors. One of these is Find Your Spot. There are lists from any number of periodicals and organizations. You can also find a plethora of information on any community online by going to resources like the local Chamber of Commerce page or the website for specific cities. Information is not the problem. Filtering it appropriately is the difficulty.

Aside from doing online research, another resource we have is a Class C RV, which is large enough that we can live in it for extended periods of time without going crazy or coming to blows. Our plan is to use it to do some in-depth exploration of various regions of interest, to use it as our mobile hub. We tried this once before, and it was working quite nicely, when we sidetracked ourselves by accepting a job offer. This time, we’ve agreed: we’re not looking for full-time work, and we are choosing the location we want. We’ll make jobs work around our choice.

Dinner on board: the wanderers

So, with all that said, I’d be interested in hearing ideas from anyone reading this post. We like the west, the not-too-cold mountain west, the southeast, and the mid-Atlantic. We like small to medium size communities…no big cities for us, although it is desirable to have a city within a reasonable driving distance for airports, shopping, etc. We like ocean, mountains, and lakes, but realistically, would probably not choose to pay for an ocean front view. This choice needs to be sustainable in every way. So ultimately, we are looking for a place that offers a variety of amenities, a cost of living that is not extreme, and a place that feels like home. Any ideas out there? We’re open to suggestion!