Word for 2014

The past couple of years I’ve been challenged to select a single word to set the tone for the year to come. So far I’ve chosen “revision” and “momentum.” This year I’m choosing “consistent.” I’m pretty good at beginning projects and making commitments, and I’m often even good at follow through. But not always. At times I get sidetracked and lose my focus. Some things (like blogs) need consistent attention and nurturing to succeed.

I also fall into the trap of taking care of commitments to others, while commitments to myself languish, unloved and un-nourished, sometimes for weeks at a stretch. That’s just the nature of life, to some degree. After all, work projects and tasks have finite timelines that impact others…I can’t set those obligations aside when I’m tired, or not in the mood, or distracted. Unfortunately, that happens all too often with my personal projects.

Mind you, success can be defined in many ways, and success can be as variable as reaching a definite goal, or just staying on task toward a goal; or keeping a regular time to pray or meditate or read; or finally marking a big to-do off your life list. Everyone can define success for themselves.

Closely connected to this year’s choice of “consistent” is recognizing: just because a project is personal, that doesn’t mean I should give myself a pass on meeting the goal, self-imposed though it be. In a very real way, when I make my personal goals take a backseat to other priorities, I’m giving myself less than what I give to others. Somehow I’ve created the false idea that work for others is more important than work I accomplish for myself. Well, sometimes that other work is more urgent. But personal goals shouldn’t be devalued because they’re personal. Particularly if goals are strategic, as in: moving your life in a new direction.

That sounds selfish, but I think it is another way of saying that I need to mind the important more than the urgent.

If you would like to join me in this approach, it’s simple! To choose your word and receive support and reminders to follow through with your goals, go to http://www.myoneword.org and sign up…free and easy! This is a different approach to the traditional new year’s resolution route. Instead of creating a list of goals, narrow your focus to one word.

What is most critical to your journey this year? Just the process of choosing a word can be revealing. I don’t always choose the first word that comes to mind, but I do consider what rises to the surface…what does my first impulse lead me to? It’s a good way to take stock, and to choose one direction rather than getting tangled up in an itemized list.

Surveys say that new year’s resolutions don’t last very long. Most people abandon their list by mid-January. Having one word to keep in mind is a minimal approach, but your word can encompass as many tasks as you choose throughout the year. It’s really just a different way to approach the same desire: to make the coming year better, to reach your potential, to find your best.

On this last week of 2013, I’m thoughtful. And I’m hopeful. And I’m challenged.

How about you?

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Heart home

We’re traveling again, on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year we’ll be with family, seeing different ones over the course of the week. Some years we’ve been with friends, and had to add the family touch via phone. We do the best we can, but making the family connection in person is not always possible. When that happens, friends round out the circle, fill in the space at the table, make the holiday bright.

Here’s what I’ve learned about celebrating and connecting in spirit, since we moved far from family, 27 years ago:

  • When you connect on a regular basis, holidays are icing on the cake. Holidays don’t have to function as points of glue. The day-to-day relationship is the glue.
  • Connecting can be as simple as a phone call or Skyping or a card or an email. Or in today’s world, a Facebook post.
  • Distance can work for you. It can smooth the rough spots and make you appreciate the good stuff.
  • You’ll only maintain the relationships you nurture. That’s especially true when you have to relate across the miles.
  • A carefully planned “surprise” visit, or some gesture that shows you’re thinking outside the box…becomes a highlight. There’s nothing more fun than orchestrating a trip like this. And the faces when you pull it off…priceless!
  • Spending holidays with friends has enlarged our circle and our traditions. Some of my favorite memories are of Thanksgivings with friends. We’ve learned new foods, new games, and built relationships that have lasted over the years, solidified by adopting others as “family.”
  • Find the right balance between pulling out all the stops for a special gathering, and keeping it real and sane. I’ve learned to pick and choose…we don’t try to do everything, we just try to do a few things well.
  • Mark the moment. I’ve learned to stop in the middle of the hustle-bustle and just look around and absorb.
  • Limit the drama. Family gatherings should not be a time of crisis or scenes. Create memories that are good so you’ll want to get together again.
  • Bring something new to the party…a new food, a new game, something different.
  • Decide what traditions are keepers. What are you always going to do, no matter who sits at the table?

Holidays don’t wait for life to be perfect. I’ve never quite achieved the Martha Stewart magazine spread for my living room or my dining room, although I’ve tried. Who doesn’t have the ideal scene in their head, just waiting to be unveiled in real life and captured in family photos as proof that it can be done?

But I’ve had better than a magazine spread. I’ve had the real thing, in all its chaos and glory, deliciousness and kitchen failures, to tell me, and those gathered with me: this is the good stuff.

 “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.”   ~ C.S. Lewis

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

I love Election Day!

I live in Alaska, and because I haven’t had TV for the past year, and because Alaska is not a battleground state, I’ve not been barraged with political ads. We recently buckled and installed satellite tv, so we’re once again plugged in (as much as we choose to be) to current social culture, as offered by the plethora of available channels. Mostly, we don’t watch, or we watch movies. I still prefer to get my news from internet sites. The beauty of internet is that I can read in-depth pieces on the topics I find interesting, rather than depending on headlines that feed on drama. And I avoid the really depressing flow of celebrity-itis.

But I’ll be tuned in tonight as polls begin to close. I can’t resist the front row seating to our national story as we add the next chapter, written by everyone who is eligible, and cares enough to vote. As citizens, we get to write the first line of the chapter. Where it goes after today will depend on the outcome of our choices: whom we select as the winner, and the many twists and turns that will occur in the coming four years.

Of course I have a preference. But beyond my personal point of view, beyond my personal voice in the election, I desperately hope that those who take opinion and passion to vicious levels, to hateful personal attacks, threats and lies, will stop. I hope that win or lose, we all step back and recognize that no good can come of gridlock, and demonizing those with whom we disagree. I’m appalled and saddened by some of the extremes I’ve heard of in this election cycle. And I think we, the voting citizens of this country, should commit, regardless of party affiliation, to throwing out elected officials who demonstrate that they are not capable of working with those in opposition parties. We do not have the luxury of sitting on our hands in this economy, and with the political issues which are swirling throughout the world. If someone is elected to make a difference, and spends their time in office refusing to reach across the aisle, then we should help them to exit, and move on to someone who will reach out.

On national election days, you get a real sense of national community. Not national unity, certainly not that! As a country, at least according to polls, we’re pretty evenly divided. But we’re still all part of one big community. And there’s something heartening about a group leap across the line of decision. I get an image of everyone joining hands and stepping across a chasm. We hold hands, even if there are some of us that would prefer not to have to reach out. The system forces a a level of cooperation to accomplish the task of choosing.

Tonight, after I’ve voted, I’ll sit up, watching the results, listening to the projections, and drinking it all in. Some years have been more fun than others, and this evening will likely be a late one. But this is one drama I enjoy, all the more exciting because I have a stake in the outcome.

So here’s to politics, to exercising our right to vote and to speak. And here’s hoping that however things turn out, at the end of the day, we’ll be big enough to accept, to move forward and play nice. May the voting be fair, and fairly counted. May we be good citizens, regardless of party affiliation. May we do our part to maintain our national freedoms. And God bless us, every one. God bless America!

“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”            ~ Winston Churchill

TV free!

For the first time in many years, I don’t have television in the house. I still have two TVs, but we discontinued cable, so all I can see is what I can access from the internet. There’s actually a lot of content that you can stream, and Pandora radio is via internet, so I’m hardly cut off from civilization as I know it. But it is a change.

Many evenings if I’m home alone, I turn on TV for the noise factor, and if something catches my attention, I watch a while. I’m not addicted to any one show. But it will be different now.

We also gave up our land line phone. Actually that doesn’t bother me. I like only having one phone to answer and to be accountable for. Messages? On my cell. Nothing waiting for me at home. We only added a land line here when we got a cable package that required a land line phone as part of a cable/internet/phone deal (don’t ask me to explain the logic behind that…cable companies – ugh!)

Technology has come a long way. I saw an article today stating that Americans now consider computers to be more important than TV, and of several technologies that the author recommended giving up, cable and a land line phone were at the top of the list. So we’re cutting edge! (Always knew that!) Not that we did it for that reason. But it was a little validation that we are not the only ones making these (seemingly) extreme choices. Well, we’ve never been into reality TV, or been big on series. So maybe the adjustment won’t be too difficult. I think the biggest thing to get used to is the lack of availability…no plethora of channels to access with the touch of a button.

We’re also intentionally moving away from broadcast media. We’re choosing to read more, to obtain news and information from online sources, and to generally be more selective about what comes into our lives.

It feels good to sit tonight, TV free, saving a significant amount of money each month, and to have time to work on a photo project or my blog without distraction. What took us so long? I don’t know…maybe we thought we couldn’t have a home without the small screen taking it’s place in our lives. Well, we’ve pulled the plug now. It may be a bit painful, especially at first. And I’ll admit, there are a few events that might see me seeking out a TV source…the Olympics…election nights…but mostly, I’m betting that like other transitions, in a few days, the worst of the adjustment will be behind us.

I’ll let you know how it’s going. It’s a brave new world. But I’m hoping to learn how unimportant TV is. And I’ve got some great books I’ve been meaning to read. So Day 1, no TV. But my Kindle and I are going to be great friends!

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.

Yum, doughnuts!

Krispy Kreme 10

Krispy Kreme Hot Light

I caught a few minutes of a Food Network program that was profiling snacks, one of which was Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Gave me a flashback to when we lived in Colorado and a Krispy Kreme store opened near our favorite mall. We lived in the foothills above Denver, one of the most beautiful places I know. Genesee, a little community in unincorporated Jefferson County (JeffCo) was home for many years. It was a perfect place to live, high above the city, and the lights at night were beautiful. We had an amazing view of the mountains and could see a range of snow covered peaks by looking out our windows.

Ok, got sidetracked there…this post is about doughnuts. The important point of where we lived is that it was just far enough from our favorite mall, Park Meadows, that we needed a doughnut snack to make the drive home complete. When the Krispy Kreme store opened, any time we stopped by, there was a long line of cars waiting at the drive through window. Of course you could go in and buy at the counter. You could also watch the doughnuts being made, going through the process of rising, frying, then riding through the waterfall of glaze, before coming out on the other end, ready to be eaten in a few bites of warm gooey deliciousness.

The important thing to know about Krispy Kremes…if you ever see the hot light on, you must stop, whether you need to, mean to, want to, even if you just started a diet…this is an imperative! The hot light indicates that doughnuts are in production at that moment. If you haven’t experienced a freshly cooked doughnut, then you haven’t had a doughnut. I won’t claim that Krispy Kremes are the best doughnut in the world. I haven’t sampled all the options. But it is the only brand I’ve ever had warm, right out of the fryer; and that you can regularly have them fresh and hot is enough to make them a favorite with me.

So this is my suggestion for a great afternoon of retail therapy: take two fun kids along, shop your heart out, have dinner at your favorite burger place, then end the day with a box of warm Krispy Kremes. You have to have at least one on the ride home, and then one or two for breakfast the next morning (they reheat nicely with a quick microwave zap). Not sure what is more delicious: the doughnuts, or the memories. Here’s to you, Stephanie and Alex! Thanks for being part of those afternoon trips, those rides back home. And next time we’re together, let’s get some doughnuts.

Springtime

Yellow daffodils - floriade canberra

It’s mid-March, and with the time change, the light lingers into the evening. It’s 7:00 pm and I can still look out and see the Tongass Narrows outside my window. Nice to welcome the softer seasons back after a snowier-than-usual stretch.

And with the return of spring months and lengthening days come other signs of rebirth. There are daffodils pushing up through the soil in the flower bed outside my house. The spring clothing catalogs have made their appearance in my mailbox. I’m beginning to think about Easter presents to send my kids. I look at dates to fly down to Arizona to celebrate Riley’s first birthday in late April. And I begin to think of summer plans. All good, all reward for getting through the winter months once more.

I love seasons. I love the change of mood that each season brings. Spring is about awakening. Summer is inherently a more relaxed time. Is that programmed into the American psyche from all the years of the school/summer cycle? First by your own school schedule as a child, then for anyone who has children, by their years in that rhythm. But even beyond the calendar, there is something about the long days that demands a slower pace and a celebration of all things summer: beaches, picnics, road trips, ball games, fireworks, watermelon and burgers.

Fall is the first season of “new year” to me. I always think there should be two re-sets of the year. Also tied to the academic calendar, September (or now August, as classes begin earlier each year) is the beginning of another school year, for so long a way of defining and staging each person: “What grade are you in this year?” And the excitement of fall harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving…each event is a beloved marker of family and communal sharing that punctuates the months.

The peak of the year for many people, “the holidays,” is both the best and the worst of the annual cycle. I am better than I once was at enjoying the people and not stressing so much about the events. It is a magical time: for children waiting for gifts; for adults, touched by reminders of what is real and good in life. And when the real new year comes, we each have the chance, once more, to reset ourselves by the calendar. To resolve again to be “good,” however we define that for ourselves: diet, money, exercise, goals…it’s going to be different this year!

So, springtime, the second season, is upon us. I look at my spring decor, knicknacks that I am sorting through as I box things in my basement. I have a collection of blown Easter eggs that my kids and I made over the years. I have ceramic bunnies and an egg tree, an assortment of spring wreaths and linens that I’ll pull out for an Easter lunch. The brighter colors and lighter fabrics imitate the outdoors on sunny days, and remind me that many things in life are worth waiting for. Spring is one of them. Then summer. Then fall. Then winter. It’s all good, and fortunately, just as we’re weary of one, the next arrives, in perfect timing. Just as we need the next cycle to begin, it does.

Cheerful vs happy

“I’m not happy. I’m cheerful. There’s a difference. A happy woman has no cares at all. A cheerful woman has cares but has learned how to deal with them.”  Beverly Sills, American opera singer.

I saw this quote recently and was immediately charmed. By this definition of happiness, could anyone really claim that state? Is there really anyone who has no cares at all? Not in my experience. But I know many people who regularly demonstrate grace under fire, grace under pressure, grace in the face of real life struggles. To some degree, life is all about perspective. If things are generally good, even a small disappointment can take on greater significance. A flat tire or lost cell phone can feel like a small tragedy. I have to acknowledge that most of my life has been blessed with health, children, friends, relationships, love…the kind of life that is easy to take for granted because it is stable.

I am increasingly aware that no life is simple, that even the people around us who look whole and happy have their cares, their own quiet battles. No one escapes some form of life challenge. Sometimes the issues are of our own making, sometimes not. Sometimes the stress is personal, sometimes it is from the heartache of watching a family member or friend struggle, and only being able to stand by and watch.

So what is the answer? Even in times of stress and heartache, life  goes on. How is that possible? It’s difficult to rise above grief, above loss, above pain. But the attempt to be cheerful is important. Is this just the “fake it till you make it” attitude? I think this is different. I think the message from this quote is that we acknowledge our troubles, we confront them, we choose life. We continue to embrace life. We look for the good to offset the bad.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being the proverbial ostrich, burying my head in the sand. And anyone who know me knows that I never seek confrontation with others. But I see a subtle difference here. When I have difficulty in my life, my confrontation is less with someone than with the issue itself. What can I do to make a difference? How can I overcome? After all, I can’t change another person, I can only change myself. I can only choose for myself. I can only be cheerful for myself.

I choose cheerfulness. I am not always able to claim happiness. But I can breathe deeply, I can focus on the good in my life, I can enjoy the comforts of the day: now in early December, a warm fire, a cup of hot coffee, twinkling lights, an early Christmas card from a friend. I choose to be a light in the darkness. Doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with this at times: of course I do. But with the help of faith in the power of God, faith in the power of good, faith in the power of hope, I will be cheerful. I will overcome.

It is a very empowering place to be. I’m liking the view from this vantage point.

I LOVE technology!

Now don’t get me wrong…I don’t understand technology…or at least, I only understand a very little bit, around the edges. But I appreciate it so much!

I live in Ketchikan, Alaska, currently, and before moving here I spent two years above the Arctic Circle, in the small town of Kotzebue. My husband and I moved there for what I call our “empty nest” adventure. Well, four years later, the Alaska experience continues. And every day, I’m reminded of how big a role technology plays in my life.

AT&T, the company my cell service is with, had a tower down in this region over the weekend. I kept staring at my iPhone Friday night and Saturday, which was registering “no service” instead of the normal component of full bars. I don’t have long distance service on the land line in the house, so I was literally cut off from family…but oh, wait, I still had internet access, so I was able to email and send messages via facebook that my line was temporarily down…just so no one would think I had fallen off the face of the earth when I was telephonically silent for 24 hours. Rob is out of town, so he wasn’t here to talk to either. Fortunately my service was restored late on Saturday, so I was once again able to be in touch with the world by cell.

Then there is my recent venture into the world of blogging. I decided that I wanted to give this a try, but knew nothing about how to start a blog. I went online and found a couple of books on Amazon that sounded like just what I needed. I ordered, read, launched my site, and voila! I’m a blogger…not a very experienced one, but I’m learning. And a fascinating world it is. You can do the whole thing for free, if you want, and all the really hard work, the coding, is done for you, behind the scenes. Of course, I’m sure if I want to develop a more sophisticated blog or even a web site, I’ll need to learn a lot more. But the current technology makes it possible even for people like me, who don’t know html code from Morse code, to get started.

And I haven’t even begun to sing the praises of the internet in general. I get most of my news online…the benefit being that if a story looks interesting, I can read all I want. Or if the headline looks scary, I don’t have to click on the link. I love controlling what comes to me. And ebooks…who knew it could be enjoyable to read a book online?! I thought I needed the actual book experience, but while I can still appreciate a beautifully illustrated and bound book, I’ve had no difficulty adjusting to reading books online. Yay for Kindle!

And the online services! Let me just say here and now that if you are not taking advantage of online retail ordering, banking, all sorts of accounts management, and social networking, you are missing the biggest time saver and convenience in modern life…better, in my opinion, than microwaves and sliced bread.

So, although I don’t know how it all works, I love that it does. And that brings me back to Alaska. This is a remote state, much of it inaccessible by road. There are many communities that you can only reach by ferry or plane. Alaska is short on roads. But with internet access, cable, cell phones and jet planes, there is little that you can’t get, even in the bush communities. (Well, you can’t get much restaurant variety or a mall experience, but you can order online and at least connect with the outside world.) Talking with long term residents who have spent a lifetime in this state, hearing their stories, I can only imagine what it was like to live here when the main connection was through snail mail or expensive phone calls.

So here’s a thank you to all the brilliant minds who have invented the things I now consider life necessities. My husband says I have a relationship with my phone, and its true…its a lifeline that I would be lost without. But judging from the number of people I see walking around with phones in hand, I’m not alone…I have a lot of company.