Monthly Archives: April 2011

Guys in Leather Pants

Travel Companions

I have been thinking a lot (big surprise, huh?) about how we might occupy our time during the “shoulder seasons.”  That is, the few weeks in spring and fall when the only access to the cabin is a hike through the woods (okay, I must admit I have not walked in yet…baby steps I say).

I was wandering through the garage (which I think might be some kind of time capsule) the other day and found more evidence of my youth (duffle bag, backpack, and Let’s Go travel guide).  These items were my travel companions as I explored Europe during college.  I love to travel and I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had to discover and explore Europe for two consecutive summers.  The first year I traveled with a group of German exchange students (I was the only participant from the English Department and did not know the language) and the second time I went with a friend splitting our time between guided motor coach and B & B do-it-yourself tours.  I enjoyed the freedom of the first trip a lot more and believe I captured the true essence of German culture.

This trip completely changed my life in a very positive way, because I stretched beyond my comfort zone of my west Texas college dorm.  It was the late 1980’s and we traveled from a conservative bible belt culture to a very uninhibited and progressive student culture (a completely different universe geographically and socially).  I remember being completely fascinated meeting new people and submersing myself in their world.  My first day in Oldenburg I found myself seated around a bonfire, drinking dark beer, and eating bratwurst (pre-vegetarian days) cooked over an open flame.  I wondered to myself how my new friends got any studying done with all of these distractions (yes, I was/am a bit uptight…working on that).  The biggest distraction in my life at that time was watching Dallas on Friday night (ho hum, I know…boring).

Most of my German student counterparts were a few years my senior, so I’m sure the age difference played a role in my infatuation.  They all seemed so mature (if you count drinking and smoking as grown up activities) in comparison.  I knew right away that hanging with the twenty somethings might be a learning experience on an entirely different level.

I had the great pleasure of staying with a student (and her beau Henning) and her parents (who did not speak English at all) on a farm outside Oldenburg.  I bunked with Anke and Henning in her parent’s old farmhouse which proved similar to living in rural Alaska.  They lived a very simple life with an emphasis on good friends and good times (something I really admire in people).  We lived very different lives and my American ritual of long hot showers became a distant memory very quickly.  My newly adopted ritual included waking up twenty minutes early, running down the dark hallway freezing, and pushing the button on the five gallon water heater.  I’d promptly return to my room and snuggle under the covers until the water was nice and hot.  I learned very quickly how to conserve water by turning it off in between rinses (hey, sounds like the cabin) and move my hands very fast to lather another body part.  I think the violent shivering and chattering of my teeth generated enough body heat to get me through the shower and comfortably back to my room.

My new friends were gracious hosts and always had freshly brewed coffee (a.k.a. motor oil) and fresh bread from the local bakery.  I learned to drink coffee, at least temporarily, just to stay warm and get the blood pumping.  I fondly remember riding a bike into town, every couple of days, to visit the bakeries and cheese shops (Costco-style shopping was not a part of this culture).

One of the most exhilarating day trips was taking a ride on the autobahn.  Yes, traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph was fun, but the real excitement was the boys in leather.  Somehow I ended up in a car (a Mercedes no less) with two guys in leather pants.  (What is it about guys in leather pants?  Okay, I’m having a Rod Stewart moment…)  Imagine all the elements of the perfect “bad boy” crush:  an older guy (yes, he did have his girlfriend with him, but I can always dream, right?) in leather pants (okay, I think I’ve made that point), long hair, smoking cigarettes, driving a fast car, in a foreign country, heavy accent…need I say more?  It was such a fun day that I don’t even recall our destination (talk about distractions).

After we fulfilled our academic commitment a girlfriend and I purchased a student rail card and took off to visit several neighboring countries.  Our friends pre-arranged sleeping accommodations for us on the floors (yes, it was definitely the floor if your mind has gotten off track) of friends and family.  My travel buddy, Amanda, and I would spend the day roaming through festivals, making new friends in the beer gardens (such a cool concept), listening to live music, climbing hundreds of stairs in famous cathedrals and castles, and learning what old really means (old is such a relative term when you consider how young America is).  We went clubbing (remember I’m a pop diva from way back) until the sun came up then visited a local fish market in Hamburg (note to self:  stinky fish, pounding head, and churning stomach do not mix well), discovered a different kind of pharmacy (window shopping only, my friend) in Amsterdam, enjoyed a guided tour by punk rockers (it was the eighties you know) in Munich, and learned to eat French fries (pommes frits) with mayo at the local McDonald’s (we could not resist the temptation).  In Europe I attended my first professional ballet, my first wine tasting at a local winery, and discovered that cold tomato soup (gazpacho) is delicious.

McDonald's Golden Arches (me on the left)

My most impressionable moment was the day I took a walk on the dark side in East Berlin.  I felt completely vulnerable walking down the streets lined with armed guards.  I wanted to cry and run back to the gate as soon as I was given clearance, but I instinctively knew this was an experience I needed to absorb, so I gathered the courage to continue the journey. It felt so eerie to have people staring at you as though you were a circus act or under a microscope.  As I entered the checkpoint to leave I felt great sadness for the people I left behind and deeply wished I could take them home with me.  I also realized at that very moment how proud and grateful I am being American.  You don’t know freedom until you have something to compare it to and East Berlin was the perfect contrast.

I sit here today and treasure my memories of these journeys and contemplate their significance.  What I love most about that time in my life is the way traveling made me feel about myself.  I was more relaxed and enjoyed the simple things in life, I felt so alive in my own skin, I had the courage to try new things and reach beyond my comfort zone, and my eyes were wide open to new perspectives and different ways of living.  My dream now is to rediscover this amazing experience and share it with my own family (do you think a pair of leather pants is in my husband’s future?).

Has your life been positively affected by traveling or experiencing another culture?  What did you learn about yourself by traveling outside your comfort zone?


I Miss You Daddy

Twenty-Eight Year Old Ski Boots

I stumbled across my first and only pair of downhill ski boots (a gift from my grandfather) today in the garage.  I’ve been moving these boots around with me since I was sixteen years old and have no idea why we are still together.  I took a photo of the boots hoping that I will be able to part with them knowing that I have my memories and a digital photo on my computer.  I’ll see if I have the courage to send them to their final resting place.  Wish me luck!

My grandfather (whom I affectionately called Daddy) has been on my mind a lot the past couple days and I’m finding all kinds of reminders of him around the house.  It seems as though he wants me to remember where my sense of adventure originated.  My grandfather was a lot of things to a lot of people:  father, grandfather, great-grandfather,  husband over fifty years, Alaska Senator, author, friend, brother, bush pilot, hunting guide, homesteader, and much more.  To me he was Daddy.  I had the great pleasure and honor (okay, that’s probably stretching it a bit from a teenager’s perspective) of spending a very impressionable time of my life with he and my grandmother from the age of twelve until I entered college when I was sixteen years old. 

In 1983 my grandfather spent Christmas in the hospital recovering from heart surgery.  I had learned to ski a couple of years prior and he knew how much I dreamed of owning my own skis.  We just didn’t have that kind of money though.  My grandmother worked in the home, my grandfather relied on a very modest income from the state (he obviously served his constituents out of love for the job and not the income), and I worked part-time to cover my extras.  So, when my grandfather presented me with a tiny pewter box at the hospital you can imagine how shocked I was to find out what this gift represented.  The box was oval-shaped and had a downhill skier engraved on the front with two pine cones (which were actually earrings).  Hiding inside the box was a necklace with a pewter pine cone pendant (hey, what do you expect it was the eighties).   He wrote (in his famous chicken scratch penmanship) me a note that promised we would make the skis “to size” when we arrived in Juneau.  I was the happiest kid alive!  To this day this was the most amazing and memorable gift I have ever received.    

I found it -- the pewter jewelry box

My Grandfather's Book

I get a little choked up when I think of separating from these boots.  Perhaps it’s because I’m reminded of my grandfather and his generosity, or because I only have a few treasures to remember him by, or possibly the boots represent a bright light in my childhood that was often filled with uncertainty.  When I remember how significant this beautiful gift was, to a young lady, I realize how much I miss my grandfather and how much fun it would be sharing my life with him now.  I know he would absolutely get a kick out of my new adventure, because he NEVER played it safe (talk about courage).  He lived his life on his own terms (mostly to the chagrin of my beloved grandmother) and truly did it his way.  My grandfather loved to share tales of his youth for hours on end and I often nodded off in the middle of a long-winded story.  A lot of time has passed, since I had the pleasure of hearing his words, and now my brain struggles to fill in all the blanks.  My saving grace is the book he wrote and I will hold that closely to my heart and share his memory and life with my own children.  I miss you Daddy.

Senator Moss


My Inspiration Machine

It’s been a couple of weeks (longest break I’ve taken since I began in October) since I went to the gym, but today I realized how much I miss going and jumped back in.  I walked into the gym and a familiar smiling face greeted me at the front desk (felt just like home), I filled my regular locker #99, cranked my iPod to its maximum volume (yes, I’m a pop diva from way back), and stepped right up to the magical machine.  Oh, how I missed my dear friend the elliptical.  Even though I have been getting a lot of physical exercise packing and cleaning it’s just not the same as hanging with my good buddy (I mean really, I can only derive so much inspiration from a cardboard box). 

My Inspiration Machine

I became overwhelmed with emotion about ten minutes into my workout today.  I thought to myself, hmmm I wonder if I’m cracking up, or maybe I’m having a midlife crisis moment (even though I’m far from midlife – in my opinion) or perhaps a dose of endorphins hit my veins all at once or could it merely be that I carved out a break from my kids?  Bingo!  Well, whatever it was it was an incredible moment and one that I have come to expect when I do my cardio workout.  I hold my very best brainstorming sessions (with myself, of course) and experience beautiful moments of clarity working on this machine.  As I’m pedaling my feet and loving life I scan the room and wonder if I’m the lucky one or is everyone having a similar moment of sheer joy.  My mind only drifts for a brief moment and I reenter the zone.  I am so creative and at peace when I’m on this machine.  I know this all might sound a little crazy…a piece of exercise equipment cleverly disguised as a source of inspiration…but it’s true.  Before you call the “boys in white” (a phrase my great-uncle from Tennessee used) allow me to explain.  This phenomenon is quite similar to meditation.  We all practice different forms of meditation:  sitting, walking, reading, writing, daydreaming, and now there’s pedaling.  Eureka!  Okay, now call the boys.

In contrast, my workouts with weights keep my mind very focused on the task right in front of me as I remain securely in the Now and Present Moment (good thing, because I might drop something heavy on my foot and that would certainly jerk me right out of the zone).  I always feel a great sense of accomplishment when using weights, because my workout routine (thank you Sheila) is such a challenge for me.  It’s all very mental to me as I prove to myself that I CAN do anything I desire.  Yep, it’s mental all right (or maybe I’m just mental). 

My workout bag says it all, "Life is Good"

Well, here I go again waxing philosophic (I just love that term) and you’re probably scratching your head wondering if I have bumped mine.  I might be reading too much into the workout thing (just ask my husband), but it’s who I am and that’s how I roll.  I enjoy sharing my personal experience as I travel closer to the center of Me and Who I Am reveals itself (hence the title of this blog, The Courage to Be Me).


Junior Entrepreneur

My eleven year old is such a little business man.  The title on his business card reads “Junior Entrepreneur” which perfectly suits him.  He makes his money by mowing lawns, selling homemade wares at the Saturday Market, watching homes for out-of-town neighbors, and removing snow from driveways.  I remind him that when we move to the cabin he will need to find a new line of work, since he will be unable to perform most of these tasks.  He saves all his money for cell phones and accessories and remote-controlled airplanes.  He definitely has an aptitude for cell phone equipment and applications and r/c airplanes for that matter (is there a promising career in r/c planes?).  So much so, that he is on a first-name basis with our local provider.  Too much fun!  The customer service staff often joke with him and say he could easily work alongside them (of course they would break a few child labor laws, but it’s all in good humor).  When he goes into the office they actually ask him questions.  I just stand back and watch in amazement as he shares his depth of knowledge about cell phones and how they function.

You might be wondering why an eleven year old is working (trust me, it’s not full-time).  I told him over the years that when he turned eleven he would need to get a job to pay for extras.  Of course, I wouldn’t expect him to do anything I didn’t do as a child.  I became a babysitter at age eleven and have worked ever since.  I cannot imagine him babysitting though.  Yikes, that’s a scary thought! (What were those parents thinking when they hired me?)

He recently learned a very valuable lesson about business when a customer did not pay him what he expected for a job.  He (and I for that matter) realizes that it’s good practice to get customer expectations in writing – up front. It was devastating to him when our neighbor paid him $300 less (than his calculations) for a job he performed over the span of five months.  It broke my heart, because he had written in his journal and told all his friends how he was going to spend the money (on three r/c boats).  One for him, one for his dad, and one for his brother.  (Not sure why my daughter and I were left out, but I digress.) 

Well, he is resilient and very creative.  He has been brainstorming ideas on how to make a little cash (of course he wants to sell everything not nailed down) now and after we get to the cabin.  Today he decided that washing bikes might be a lucrative venture.  Here is the sign he created to solicit neighborhood kids (no bites today, but there is always tomorrow).

Bike Wash Venture

Homemade Birdhouse (rustic version)


Some of his other ideas include:  homemade birdhouses (like the one pictured here), bike repairs, and writing a blog (yes, I confess…that’s my idea).


Man Cave

Taxes are done (thank you Rachel) and now I can focus on our new adventure…

View of cabin from the lake

View of lake from the cabin


The time has come to wait for the ice to go out.  We’re expecting fifty degree weather, so the ice will begin its rapid decline.  My husband made his last trip by truck today on the ice road (well, what’s left of it anyway).  He made a final load of lots of goodies and carpet for the classroom.  Oh by the way, the boys in my family (husband and two sons) have renamed the classroom their “man cave.”  They have all these grandiose ideas of how to use the space:  tv, video games, card games with the guys, no girls allowed kind of place, etc. Well, we will see about that.  I guess the up side to their plan is the cabin will be the girls’ domain and it’s much bigger.  Yep, that’s right.  I can see the sign now on the outside of the classroom, No Girls Allowed or Enter at Your Own Risk.  Oh brother.

We discussed how to make the cabin more of a home and the boys came up with some pretty crazy ideas in my book.  Here are a few of their recommendations:  let’s store some things outside covered with tarp, or let’s use a clothesline to dry our clothes (after washing them at the laundromat a five-mile boat ride plus a two-mile truck ride away), and the best one is let’s filter water from the lake to use for outdoor showers (I do take outdoor showers, with good water, in my swimsuit).  Okay people, we have lost our marbles.  Number one, if you think I’m going to allow tarp anywhere you are nuts.  Number two, I will happily go to the laundromat to wash AND dry my clothes (thank you very much), and I draw the line with “roughing it” with filtered lake water.  Yuck!!!  I don’t do tarp (okay, I think I’ve made that point), I grew up hanging clothes on the line and the towels practically scratched my face because they were so rough and stiff, and I’m not taking any chances with beaver fever (ingesting contaminated water).  I think my husband is losing it (probably due to lack of sleep).  Ha ha.

Well anyway, he accomplished a huge task of getting the classroom (a.k.a. man cave), ready for us to occupy.  The roof is on, the wiring is almost done, the door and window installed, and the carpet is ready to go down (thank you Ron).  I have sent to the cabin every possible book, school supply, kitchen utensil and appliance, dvd, board game, arts and crafts project, etc. to make our time very enjoyable (especially if we have a rainy summer like last year).  We have two more weeks in the house and a lot more stuff to sell and pack and store.  Are you ready for this?  We will stay in our RV during the transition between the house and cabin as we patiently wait for the lake to open for boating.  I know what you are wondering.  Have you completely lost your mind?  Well, no.  Everything is all relative, my friend.  The motor home is approximately thirty-three feet long, luxuriously (okay, I might be exaggerating a smidge here) appointed with a master bedroom, full bathroom, kitchen, and two tvs.  It has indoor plumbing for Pete’s sake!  That’s right.  We will be living like kings for a couple of weeks.  (Hey, I can see the good in everything.)

Classroom on the right

Looks as though one of my first projects will be painting our classroom and removing the old play set, but for now everything is still frozen to the ground.


Losing the Baggage

I believe everything happens for a reason and there are no accidents or coincidences.  I also believe that everything changes and change is always for the better and never for the worse.  I believe life IS change and without change life would cease to exist.  That’s because I believe that we adapt and evolve throughout our lives and that is exactly what change is.  The trick is embracing change by understanding its purpose. (Thank you Neale for helping me “remember” this.)

My world is changing rapidly and significantly right before my eyes, but I have created this new world by my own design.  I have wanted to experience life in a much different way for a very long time.  I’ve yearned for a simpler life filled with peace, harmony, love, and well-being.  Life changes for all of us, more for some and less for others.  This move will be the fifty-sixth for me (at least that I can remember), but it feels like the first in many ways.  I’m experiencing a huge shift in my awareness of my priorities and as each day passes and we approach the end of April I feel so calm about the entire process. 

We’ve been selling and donating personal belongings and furniture in our house and it feels so liberating, so freeing, and uplifting.  In the past when we moved I held stuff so closely not wanting to part with anything.  This time is very different in that I want to release absolutely everything that is not essential to my family’s survival and enjoyment.  Four hundred square feet of living space helps you prioritize very quickly.  Of course, we will keep some things in storage that we are not ready to let go yet.  A few personal mementos of my mom and my husband’s mom will continue to have a place in our lives for now.  Photos and some of the kids’ special things will also make the cut. 

This move (or change as it is) feels so different from the previous ones and the sense of calm that has washed over me is almost foreign.  I have moved past the grieving point of missing my old life and I’m now at the threshold of proudly welcoming my new life.  As each item leaves our house I feel a weight being lifted and I know by the time we are ready to roll down the driveway for the last time I will feel as light as a feather.  Talk about losing the baggage!


My Alaska Man

The same things that make me crazy are the same things that I love the most about my husband.  I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it makes sense to me.  We’ve been married twenty years this November and we’ve experienced great joy and challenges over the years.  He told me the other day that a lot of life happens with me and there is never a dull moment.  I’m going to take that as a compliment. 

We are very different in a lot of ways, but when the rubber meets the road we are on the same page.  We both agreed it was time to make major changes in our life, we both agreed that our children will benefit immensely by having more Mommy time, and we agreed that living without indoor plumbing might be one of our biggest adventures yet.  Ha Ha.  It’s really not that big of a deal to me, since I grew up in several places that had no indoor plumbing or at least it was marginal at best.  I just say, “we’ll improvise.”

My husband is the quintessential Alaska man.  That is, he wears blue jeans and t-shirts and the occasional insulated flannel and has a huge collection of caps (great for those days when you don’t have a shower handy).  I stopped buying him “nice” clothes years ago, because they just hang in the closet with the tags still attached.  He has worn a tie twice since we met:  at our wedding and one other time when he borrowed one from a friend (the friend also had to tie it, because I am clueless).  He is a crazy snowmachine rider (broke his back last spring and was riding this winter), a hard worker (well okay, I have to say that in case his boss reads this…Hi Carl) with the same employer for over sixteen years, and just an all around nice guy (the life of the party if we ever have a party).  Oh yeah, he also drinks beer.  He has graduated from Budweiser to Rolling Rock, so there is still hope.  We have different parenting styles, different communication styles (he will freak out when he sees this is for public consumption), and very different eating habits (I’m vegetarian and he is a meat and potatoes guy).  He makes me crazy when he doesn’t remember the fifty things I asked him to do, when he feeds the kids Captain Crunch for breakfast, and the way he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow (I call it the baby doll effect:  lean back, eyes close, game over).  His snoring keeps me awake, he is a neat freak (I’m just a freak), and he puts the knives in the dishwasher with the blades pointing up.  That really drives me crazy.  But, for all the little idiosyncrasies we remain together and in love (right honey?). 

I know he would run into a burning building for us and do absolutely anything to protect us.  What I have really learned though is that he listens.  He doesn’t seem to be listening, because he’s so fidgety and if you sit down with him and talk he practically falls asleep.  Case in point…I mentioned to him how important it is for the classroom to be ready when we get to the cabin.  That way we can stay on our school schedule and get organized more quickly.  The thought of him building the room while all of the stuff is in the middle of the cabin was causing me a lot of anxiety.  Yikes, we only have four hundred square feet.  Come on people!  I am human after all.  So, for the past three days (his days off by the way) he has driven over fifty miles each way and battled the snow, wind, and rain to get our room ready.  He was determined to get the roof on today although it was snowing sideways and he was freezing and all alone.  He did it though.  What’s so funny about all of this is that I knew he would.  He has been grumbling about me expecting the impossible, but I knew he was capable.  And he is. 

Photo:  Is that the cutest classroom you’ve ever seen?  My husband finished the roof today on the new addition on the right.  If I’m really nice maybe he will build a storage shed and we’ll get both sides.