Country roads

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Rob and I are taking a breather. After a couple of months of intense work, we’re in sunny California setting up a new second home. Well, it’s a second home for us. Really it’s a new travel trailer. We said good-bye to the Class C RV the last time we were down, and now we’re adjusting to our new space.

We’ve been roaming the north/central part of California the last couple of years, slowly getting to know this region a bit. Sacramento is the big city hub, but we’re only there briefly, picking up a vehicle from storage and then leaving the hustle and bustle behind. No doubt about it, California has hustle.

But once you drive out of the city, into the countryside, you’re in a completely different world. And that’s the California I love. You leave the multiple-lane freeways and find yourself driving on two-way rural roads that probably look the same as they did 50 years ago. The houses you pass may be newer construction. But often, the barns and homes are old fashioned too. They’ve stood the test of time and weather, and look a little rugged, like some chiseled movie star from an old black and white film. They may be repurposed and give the small towns the quaint flavor of historic meets tourist. Or they may be falling down, remnants of a past century and past usefulness that won’t last many more years.

This is historic gold country (as in the ’49..that’s 1849… gold rush), farming and ranching country, dotted with wide spots in the road, all boasting some hole in the wall restaurant that’s probably a gem in disguise. The winding roads take you round hills and streams and seem to be going nowhere in particular. Nothing out here runs straight.

I’ve decided any road that takes me past rounded green hills, grazing cows and standing horses, vineyards and fruit orchards growing hot in the mid-day sun, old pick-ups and farm stands selling farm to table produce…take any road that runs past these delights, and I’m charmed.

I’m completely fascinated with the scale of it all. The landscape is amazing, the rolling hills spreading far to the horizon and a faint view of snowy mountains, barely visable to my eye. But the buildings that dot the land along side the two-lane roads, they’re scaled to human size. Nothing is big-box shaped, overwhelming, giant structures that make humans seem like ants in comparison. Everything in the country, except the land itself, seems tailored to people. I guess because when a lot of this land was settled, that’s who they were building for.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the convenience of big shopping and all that goes with it. There’s a place for that, I guess. But all in all, I’m still small town at heart. Maybe it’s in my veins, the way my mom and my grandmothers, and surely their mothers before them, all grew and lived in small communities with human-sized stores and buildings.

There were farmers among my ancestors, and maybe that old influence is why I love the sight of cows and the acres of fields we pass. I remember my dad could always identify the crops, and I wondered how he knew what was growing in the fields when he wasn’t a farmer. But he grew up with that heritage, and so he knew.

I am not a farmer, and I can’t always guess the type of crop in the field we’re passing. But I love it, and I identify (a little guiltily, feeling like I’m faking it) with the rural spirit of the region. I love to support the local markets, love to think I’m contributing to a family’s way of life, and an American heritage of growing food and making it, encouraging the little guys with their small farms. It’s a nod to our shared past, a nod to my parents, the road warriors of my youth, and an acknowledgement that for a lot of people, farming and rural living is still an everyday way of life.

So I’m enjoying the new trailer, and getting settled. But to be honest, I’m almost as excited to see the cows again.

Doesn’t seem romantic, really. Until you get out on those open roads. And then I know I’m home, honoring the American spirit, loving the freedom, the space, the independence.

Aaahh…

See you out there!

What do you find that’s charming on the road?

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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 vacuüm 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.

Taking the plunge

Skydive in Central New York (CNY) at Blue Sky ...

What a view!

What do you give for a memorable birthday present, to truly mark the moment? Well, there’s no one right answer. But for Rob, who’s birthday is today, it had to be an experience. He always says he values experience more than things, and anyway, as most people have sorted out by 50, there are only so many things a person needs. He’s not one to collect status symbols, or to collect anything, for that matter.

Since we’re in California, it’s easy to focus on the outdoors, another love of his. So I planned a day of:

~early morning walk on the beach

~favorite breakfast

~11:00 AM reservation for tandem skydives…yes, we’re taking the plunge!

~afternoon birthday cake

~Sushi for dinner

~Day’s end in a jacuzzi under the stars

Happy Birthday to Rob, my one and only. And may this be the beginning of the best years of your life!

Image from Wikipedia

They’re back

MS Volendam docked in Ketchikan, Alaska, Unite...

Summer begins in Ketchikan

I saw the first cruise ship of the season Sunday. I looked out my front windows and saw a huge boat slowly and surely making its way toward the downtown docking berths of Ketchikan. The morning was sunny, inviting, fortunate. Booking a cruise to Alaska in the shoulder season (first or last of the cruise season months) can be risky. Passengers may experience the beauty of May or the chill of a late spring storm. Raincoats and jackets are sure to be required before the trip is done.

But that’s all from the passenger’s point of view. I’m a local, at least for a while longer. Until the house sells, I have a place in this community. Passengers can look into my front room windows with binoculars…the view is that good, that close, as the ships move slowly, majestically, toward the docks.

The ships bring tourists, tourists bring money, money brings jobs, jobs bring a bounce to the local economy. It’s heartening to see the downtown come back to life. Many of the businesses shut down in the winter months, only a few locally owned stores stay open through the off season. But everywhere in the past few weeks, I’ve seen fresh paint, new flowers, construction, the signs of rejuvenation.

Come up and visit if you’re looking for a little easy adventure. The Inside Passage is beautiful, the communities along the route are eager to entertain guests, and the weather is turning. The welcome signs are out and we’re ready for business.

Find of the day

So today was disappointing. May 2nd, and instead of a beautiful sunshiny day (like last Thursday…a warm postcard of a day in Ketchikan) it was chilly, rainy, gray. I had turned the heat off earlier in the week, but today, I had to flip the switch back on. It was just too cool in the house to be comfortable. Not the way to welcome May!

I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself this evening, and in a bit of random surfing, I ran across a site that celebrates the little things in life. Hey, that’s what my blog is about, at least some of the time. The truth is, it’s about whatever I want it to be about. Because, that’s right, it’s my blog. I read some of the posts, and each one brought a smile to my face. I felt my sunny side up coming back. Just because the day outside is dreary, that doesn’t mean I have to be down.

I looked around to choose what to celebrate now, this very minute. Hmmm…nothing jumping out at me…

Ok, how about this? I’m uploading Riley photos to Flickr, getting ready to make a photo book of her first year of life. Looking back at the photos is an amazing review of her little face, her rapid growth, her changing smile and emerging personality. That’s a good thing!

Or this? Made a cake, chocolate, with cream cheese frosting, and after giving away most of it, I still have a decadent piece saved to treat myself for the next few nights.

Or this? My hair has grown long enough I can pull it up in a pony tail, and my bangs are long enough that I can pull them back…ok, I know this is only of interest to me, but it’s a small personal triumph.

Or this? I’m downloading books left and right on my Kindle. What a kick!

Or this? Did a good deed Saturday. Made me feel good all the way to today!

Or this? Listened to great music all afternoon on Pandora.

Or this? Ticked off several to dos last weekend and feel ready to start the week.

Or this? Added the link http://1000awesomethings.com/ to my blogroll. Take a peak for yourself. Can’t vouch for all of the content, but it seems like a great source for celebrating the good and the small. As Julie Andrews sang, “these are a few of my favorite things.”

Well, well, well…May is looking up. How about you? You don’t have to find 1,ooo things to celebrate. But how about one? Or two? Have a good time listing your own awesome things.

On the road again

View of I-70 as it turns North at Copper Mount...

Icy I-70

I miss the road. Mythic in the American psyche, the open road calls to us, beckons us to the next chapter, the next adventure, the grocery store. Ok, the last one wasn’t so romantic. But most of my life, that’s where my road has taken me.

Oh, I’ve had some amazing journeys. I remember moving cross country with three-week old Alex, driving toward a new house that I had never seen, twelve hundred miles from family and the world I had known. Turned out to be a great move, and the launch of our family. Forced us to be independent, to be us.

Then five years later, we drove to another new home, this one in Midland, Michigan, and driving across Colorado in February, we crossed Vail Pass, and my car went skidding on an icy patch of interstate. We were caravaning, Rob and I, he with our dog and one child, me with the other. I did a complete 180 on the interstate and came to a stop facing oncoming traffic. I still don’t know how I turned myself around and got out of there before I was hit. But I did it, passing Rob like the wind in a panic. Somehow we made it down to Denver, and I think we had stopped for dinner at a restaurant before I stopped shaking.

Over the years we did a number of cross country trips back to see family. Stephanie was in her permit driving phase on one of those trips, and I had taken the kids back to see family. I sat in the front seat next to her, carefully monitoring her driving skills as we headed west on I-70. The thing about I-70 is that so much of it is the same. After a while I got sleepy and nodded off. When I woke up we were headed east. She had come through some exit options and had somehow managed to turn us in the opposite direction. Fortunately it was a short nap.

One of our epic journeys occurred only a couple of years ago when we drove a 30-foot class C RV down from Anchorage, crossing Alaska, Canada, and 17 states, on a drive that began in September and ended in December. We had never driven an RV before. Rob practiced turns in a parking lot with the RV salesman before we left. We had the dogs with us, and we were novices at everything we were doing. But we did it. And I’m pleased to announce I drove that vehicle. Those ten miles of Texas interstate were the longest of my life. But I drove them, and no one can take that away from me!

I have a short commute, living on a small island. I live in town, and although the paved road goes from the north to south and stretches about 20 something miles in all, my trip to work from my neighborhood is only about a mile. I can hardly get through a song on the radio. And I don’t get much talk time in. In the past, time alone in my car has been an opportunity to talk things out, to plan my day, to hear myself think. But I must have larger issues than a mile’s worth. Can’t get through much in that morning drive.

There are some advantages. I only fill my car about once a month. When I’m asked about the price of gas, I don’t even know what it is. I fill my tank so rarely that when I need to do it, I just put gas in the tank. Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective. The price of gas for an airline ticket is just a wee bit more expensive. Tickets from Ketchikan to Phoenix are running about $1,000 right now.

This week is a reminder of what I like about the road. Anticipating a return to life more connected with driving, I realize I’m ready. And if you should pass me having an animated conversation with myself, just know I’m working something out. Just me and the road.

Craig, Alaska

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

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

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

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

Nickie

Nickie is my baby. She is the only dog that I’ve ever considered my own. The others in my life were jointly shared with family. But Nickie stole my heart when I saw her, a six-week old, two pound puppie, with the sweetest little face and a tiny little body that could fit in my hands.

We didn’t mean to get another dog. We had a Cocker Spaniel, Sable, who was getting older and wasn’t in good health. I had thought about getting another dog for our kids to bond with before Sable was gone, but as a family, we hadn’t really discussed the idea or made that decision. We were buying a Sheltie to give to my father-in-law for his 60th birthday. We located a breeder in our area who was going to have puppies ready to leave their mom about the time we wanted to present him with his new dog. The breeder had two, and we could choose the one we wanted to purchase.

When we went out to pick up the puppy we were going to give, we walked in and saw two miniatures, tiny little dogs that were twins, the only two in the litter. One was more social, came out to see us right away. The other one seemed shy and quiet. My inlaws operate a Christian student center at a small college, so we thought the more outgoing pup would be the best fit for their environment. But even as we were making that choice, the other puppy was casting her spell. It was a short step from buying one puppy to taking both. Talk about an impulse purchase!

We took both dogs home and settled into a puppy centered life for a while. My inlaws arrived for their visit, were completely charmed with the dogs, and when they left, they took the one we had chosen for them.

We named ours Nickie, or Nicollette Ness Gibson. But she was Nickie, or Nick, from the first. Then as she captured my heart, she became “Little” and then “Poo,” additional names she still has to this day. Nick-names for pets are like names for your kids…you don’t always know or remember where they came from or when they were added. They’re just additional little names that show your affection.

Nickie was a little puff of a dog with a fine coat of fur and a little pointed nose. She had quite the spirit when we got to know her. Shelties are sheep herding dogs, and it wasn’t long before she was nipping at my heels going up the stairs. I guess in the absence of sheep, she decided to herd the humans in her charge. She particularly loved Alex, and became attached to him. He spent a lot of time with her as we were home schooling him that year.

She grew, but not much. Every time we talked with my inlaws, we compared the weight of the two dogs. I thought their vet’s scales must be out of sync with ours, there was a significant difference in the weights of the two siblings as they grew. We were astonished when we saw the two together several months later. Nickie was the runt. She had grown in size, and her fur coat had filled in, but she was only about half as big as her sister. It was really comical to see the two together, knowing that a few months before they had been the same size puppies.

It was not from lack of trying that Nickie was small. She had (and has) a seemingly insatiatable appetite. I think she would eat until she popped if we didn’t limit her food. She’s very protective of her bowl too…get near her when she’s eating and she gets very agitated. We tried to correct that behavior, but never really got through to her. She’s still concerned, at every meal, that her bowl is in danger of being whisked away. She’s so ferocious that our Jack Russell, Pete, won’t even go into the kitchen when she’s eating.

Nickie has been fortunate. She’s on her fourth life now. About a year after we got Nickie, Sable began to get weaker. She finally reached a point of not getting up from her bed, and we knew the time had come to say good-bye. I arranged for our vet to come to the house to put her down and we were all able to be there with Sable. It was a hard afternoon and a sad evening. Just before bed, we were letting Nickie out for the last time before going up for the night. A herd of deer were just beyond our door and Nickie ran over to them, attempting to herd them. As we watched, she followed them up the hill in the darkness. She had never run before, we had let her out without a leash, and because she had recently been chewing at her collar tags, I had taken her collar off to try to stop that behavior. I was frantic, realizing that she was out at night, in the Colorado cold, with no collar to identify her, and could possibly be prey for whatever predators were nearby. We knew there were mountain lions in the area, and she was small enough to be an easy target for almost any size animal.

We looked for her without success, then left the garage door up and the light on, hoping she would find her way home. The next morning she was still missing. I couldn’t really believe she would have survived the night, but we decided to call the vet offices and shelters in the area in case she had been found by someone else, and we continued our search in the daylight. By late afternoon I felt hopeless. Our daughter decided to contact some shelters further from the house, and by some miracle, a shelter several miles away had a call about a dog that matched Nickie’s description. They gave Stephanie the contact information for the person who had reported finding her, and she arranged for Nickie to be brought to the house. Nickie had roamed about a mile and turned up at someone’s back door. Seeing her safe and at home again was such a relief. I had felt so terrible, both for Nickie to be lost, and for our kids, losing one dog to illness, and having the other one run away in the same day.

Her next near-death adventure occured in the Arctic. We took the dogs with us when we moved to Kotzebue, Alaska, in our empt nest adventure. We were living in an apartment building, reserved for hospital staff with pets, appropriately enough known as the “Dog House.” Rob and I had planned to travel to our son’s graduation from Army basic training, and I had arranged to trade dog sitting with one of the nurses at the hospital. Our dogs were going to stay with her and her two larger dogs, and I was going to return the favor when she was out of town. We had a meet-and-greet, and everyone seemed compatible.

The morning we were leaving, I took the dogs to the house where they were going to stay while we were gone. It was November, already dark and cold in the Arctic. I went home to finish packing and had barely walked in the door when my phone rang. The nurse who was keeping the dogs called to say that one of her dogs had bitten Nickie and she was bleeding. I ran back to get Nickie and when I walked in the door, saw blood all over the walls of the front entrance. Nickie had been bitten on the back of her neck, and it looked like she was bleeding profusely. We rinsed off the blood to see the extent of the damage, and saw that in reality, she only had a small bite. I scooped her up and took her home and waited for Rob to come back from his hospital rounds. There was no vet in town, and I thought she needed a few stitches.

Rob was the stand in vet in the emergency. I held a flashlight and he used a sewing needle and black thread to put a few stiches in to close the bite wound. A neighbor agreed to keep her so she would not be staying with the dog who bit her. Although she seemed a little dazed and disoriented, she recovered well, and by the time we got back from our trip, was her old self again.

But she almost didn’t survive that year. A few months later, her appetite was almost the end of her. One evening after work, I was beginning dinner and noticed a couple of bites of steak in the fridge that I had saved as a dog treat. I gave Pete and Nick a bite each, and then turned around to continue my dinner prep. But within seconds I could hear Nickie wheezing like she couldn’t breathe. She had choked on the bite of steak I gave her and was gasping for air when I looked down. I couldn’t dislodge the meat, and realizing she wouldn’t last long, I ran next door to get help. Our neighbor, Jimmy, was a Santa Claus look alike who was the department head of X-ray at the hospital. I had the inspired thought that he might be able to dislodge the meat with his better knowledge of anatomy. The moment he opened the door and realized what was happening, he took Nickie and began to try to save her. He was able to extract the meat, and then he actually gave her a few breaths of mouth to mouth to bring her back around! And what did she do? As soon as he put her down on the floor she began to look for the bite of meat that had fallen when it was dislodged. Fortunately for her, I beat her to it, and she didn’t get any more steak for a long time. We eventually had a nice dinner party to thank Jimmy for saving Nickie. Nickie was introduced to everyone, but she was not invited to eat.

She’s still a chow hound, and she’s broadened with age, although she’s still a small dog. She turned 11 this year in November. Hard to believe we’ve had her this long. She’s still a feisty little being, still loves her food, and she would still like to herd sheep. Nickie has been a joy in my life. She reminds me that good things come in small packages, and that you can outgrow shyness and overcome size to take your place in life. I love her little ferocious spirit, and her funny little ways. She’s my baby.

New skills; or, 50 and fearless!

So, after a bit of agonizing over my inevitable 50th birthday… inevitable since I’ve continued to live…I have come to terms with my new decade. I turned 50 in September, and although I don’t want to seem totally self-absorbed, it gave me a little heartburn to realize that I’m now officially old enough for an AARP membership.

I’ve heard some women speak of being “50 and fabulous,” and while that’s a line I’d love to claim for myself, I can’t honestly say that I’m fabulous on a daily basis. My fabulous moments are somewhat hit and miss. Most of the time I have to categorize myself more in the “doing the best I can” mode.

My new phrase that celebrates turning 50 and showcases the spirit I’m striving for is “50 and fearless.” This is not to say that there are not plenty of things in life worthy of fear. Serious illness, loss, concerns about family, relationship issues, money troubles, the leak in my bathroom…all bring some level of fear to my mind. Some fears are easily calmed, and anything that can be resolved with money, in my opinion, is not too big a problem in the first place. It’s only money, right? But some fears are too real, too big, to gloss over with a pep talk. Some things can’t be bought with money. Some things have to be accepted, acknowledged, lived with.

But the attitude…that’s what I want. The spirit of fearlessness is my goal. The spirit that says “bring it on, I’ll find a way to meet this challenge with grace and dignity.” And if I can nurture that attitude in myself, if I can face life with boldness, then maybe turning 50 will be ok after all. It feels a bit like arriving, although I don’t claim to have everything figured out. But by this point in my life, I’ve lived long enough to know that whatever comes, most likely the process of finding a solution to a problem, or finding the grace to accept, will stretch me in new ways, will broaden my horizons, will bring new insight. And after all, isn’t that valuable in itself? I know more, and less, now than I did at 20. I am more confident and more tolerant, less sure that I have the answers to everything. But I believe I am kinder, gentler, softer, and yet have more ability to endure. And as I take stock of myself at the beginning of this new decade, I’d like to believe I’m progressing, not just aging.

So that’s my goal and challenge to myself: to be 50 and fearless. To be courageous and to embrace whatever comes; to seek the opportunity to grow, to stretch, to find new strengths, new skills, new horizons. And who knows? Maybe one day I will be fabulous as well as fearless…with a lot of effort, and a generous supply of grace.