Life is Glorious

Our Name Placard

I’m not sure what I have done to deserve such a wonderful week, but I’m grateful and I’m enjoying every moment.  So much happens in just one day and I’m excited to share some of it with you.

I spent about four hours today planting flowers and strawberries, hanging hand painted birdhouses, and strategically hiding our gnomes and other garden friends around the dock area.  If my dirty feet and aching back are any indication of a job well done then I’m satisfied.

Our Favorite Shoes

Mama Bird is still hanging out in the back even though my seven-year old son (Aaron) banged away with hammer and nails all day long.  The noise didn’t even phase her and he was a very happy camper building his first boat.  My five-year old daughter (Allyson) loves to take photos and she really helps me document our journey each day.  We watched a plane take off and land probably ten times and she was able to capture the moment.

Great Source of Entertainment

The sunsets are truly amazing and I take a moment to pause each night to watch the spectacle.  It reminds me of when we visited Maui about nine years ago.  It’s a local tradition for everyone to stop whatever they are doing and watch the lights go out.  Their sunsets are very quick in comparison and when the light goes out there it’s actually dark.  Not here.  We are currently getting eighteen hours and thirty-two minutes of daylight and still gaining around three and a half minutes per day.  My husband and I sat out by the dock last night/this morning watching four grebes interact (or mate, or fight, or whatever they were doing.)  I love to sit and watch the lake late at night and early in the morning, because it’s so flat and peaceful.  I still pinch myself each day and wonder if I’m going to wake up from this dream.  I’m exactly where I want to be at this moment in my life.  I know that some of you reading this blog might think my desire to have this experience is strange (or at least unconventional), but that’s the point of it all.  Me having the courage to be Me as you watch the entire process unfold.  Too much fun!

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The Diva Has Left The Building

Okay, I am here to confess that perhaps I have had a little inner diva or so I’ve been told (hi Mike).  If there was truly an ounce of diva coursing through these veins I’m happy to say that it has vanished from my body (unless wearing makeup occasionally still qualifies me).  I can happily report that we’ve been here one week and I have relinquished a lot of fears and learned to relax a little (please remember I’m a work in progress).  I no longer fear that a bear will eat my young at any moment, I don’t completely (just partially) freak out when I see bugs, I am okay with not having a hot shower every single day (hey, I’m not the one who has to look at me…ha ha), I no longer worry about instant hypothermia if I fall in the lake (the water is getting warmer every single day), I no longer worry about reliable transportation (we have a boat that starts when you turn the key) and I have accepted the fact that life is much simpler living here (translation:  slow down and don’t get in a hurry).

The Family Wagster

Even so, I would like to know who sent the personal invitation to every spider in a five-mile radius to join our little party.  I have never seen so many spiders and webs.  Yikes!  I wipe webs away and by the end of the day they are back (determined little critters).  Yesterday I encountered two spiders in the cabin and that’s two more than I have ever seen inside (let’s just say there will be no more niceties exchanged).  What’s up with that?  I’m starting to think these free loaders cannot read the No Vacancy sign posted on the door.  Get out I say.  Last night I rested my head on the pillow and fretted that the spiders might have the same bedtime, but pure exhaustion overtook me so quickly I let it go and drifted off to sweeter dreams.

Mama Bird with a Watchful Eye

We are ready to hang the sun shower on the rack, but I’m hesitant to disrupt Mama Bird and her egg.  She sits up there all day waiting for Baby Bird to make his entrance into the world and I am very respectful of this miracle.  We are careful to help her feel secure, so she doesn’t abandon her post.


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We’re Here!

The First Night

We finally made it out of the house Saturday, May 21, 2011.  Unbelievable!  It took almost two months to sort, pack, and move out of the huge house with all of that stuff.  All I know is that I’m so relieved to have completed that chapter and began a new one.

The past couple of days we have been shuffling between the cabin and the RV parked at the boat launch, driving to Anchorage and everywhere in between, and organizing the cabin and the outbuildings.  It will probably take us a few more days to really get everything moved in and set up the way we want, but it’s so much fun putting it all together.

We’ve seen a lot of nature in just a short time:  grebes, loons, ducks, woodpeckers, red breasted robins, cardinals, eagles, a muskrat, and fish jumping looking for their first meals above the ice.  Oh, did I mention the other “wildlife?”  That is, spiders (had a huge one crawl up my leg the first trip to the outhouse – yikes), mosquitoes (the size of small birds), butterflies, and all kinds of unidentified bugs, bugs, and more bugs.  We even found a bird’s nest with an egg in it perched above our sun shower area.  I have not witnessed nature this up close and personal in a very long time.  It’s such a calm and peaceful experience already and we’ve just begun.

New Resident

The kids spend their entire days digging in the dirt, riding in the paddle boat, trying to ride their bikes (yes, if you can imagine bikes on a gravel hill), playing in the man cave (or whatever you call it…still haven’t decided on the appropriate name yet…perhaps family room), hauling water in buckets to create mud slides, fishing (the only thing they catch is themselves), and absolutely anything else that grabs their attention.  All I know is the kids are always outdoors unless their growling tummies bring them inside for a quick meal.  I’m just so happy they are not watching tv (we don’t have tv service anyway) or playing video games (we will save those activities for rainy days which we get a lot of in Alaska).

We now have internet access which means I can talk to you all.  I’ve really missed posting entries to this blog over the past couple of weeks as we finished the move, since writing and sharing our experience brings me great pleasure.  Life is great!  I got a lot of sleep last night, a shower this morning, and now I’m spending an amazing day doing exactly what I want with the people I love the most.


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The Mother of All Moves

My Sister Vickie and I (me on the left)

A sorting we will go…wondering where I have been?  In a cloud of dust from all the boxes, sorting through things from my mom, my husband’s mom, my grandparents, my childhood, my husband’s childhood, my childrens’ childhoods, okay you get the point.  This move will certainly be remembered as the Mother of All Moves!  I finally feel as though I am crawling out of the abyss of stuff and have found the floor in some rooms.  We have extended our stay one final time to May 17 to get out of here with our sanity intact (a matter of opinion).  We have been working from sun up to sun down (in Alaska that is all day) every day to get this house packed.  Much to my surprise this move has taken on a life all its own even though it is my fifty-sixth move.  Historically I have moved boxes to the next house even if I had not opened and organized them, so physically touching each and every item has proven extremely time-consuming.

When we started this process I had approximately three thousand five hundred books in this house (my rehabilitation led me to the Nook Color), hundreds of beanie babies (what was I thinking in the early 90s), tens of thousands of photos (including the infamous “black suitcase” which has traveled through our family since the 1940s),  enough office and school supplies for a few years, enough baskets and gift wrapping supplies (including gifts still in the boxes) to open a gift basket business, enough clothes to outfit a family of twenty (how many outfits can you possibly wear in a day or before you grow out of them), enough papers to sink a ship (the recycle bin has been full to the brim), and over forty houseplants.  I am happy to report that I kept fewer books than I donated (I think the local bookstore may have doubled in size in the past few weeks); gave away all but a couple of houseplants; and happily shared bags and boxes and truckloads full of toys, clothes, stuffed animals, household items, dishes, furniture, appliances, computers, etc.  I jokingly tell my friends that I have a “no return” policy on everything I share with them (thanks Chris, Sina, Rachel, Kay, Carl), so I hope we are still friends.

The "Black Suitcase"

At one point I felt as though I had entered some kind of weird time warp and my head had spun out of control with a lifetime of memories.  The “movie” played out in my brain, but  in a very disjointed and haphazard fashion as I compiled all of our family photos and keepsakes (which represented several generations spanning over one hundred years all over the country) in one area.  I’m so happy that we have completed all the sorting and now it’s just a matter of wrapping, packing, and storing.  I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel now and it feels great.

Look What Made The Cut

We found evidence of many different types of media available during our lifetime:  Disc camera, 35mm, digital, slides, 8mm movies, 110, Polaroid, video cassettes, dvds, cds, and microcassettes.  We found baby shoes, baby outfits, wedding dresses, wedding rings, old coins, old dolls, greeting cards (some that never made it to the mail box), my mom’s spoon collection (hundreds of spoons collected over sixty-seven years), letters, legal documents (including funeral announcements, birth announcements, marriage certificates, birth certificates, death certificates, wills, divorce decrees), medical and dental records, x-rays (why do people keep these things, don’t the doctors have this stuff on file), footprints, hospital armbands, my Brownie dress and my husband’s Cub Scout shirt.

Brownie Dress and Childhood Books

I have learned patience as I dilligently review the contents of each and every box, because I am always rewarded with a special keepsake. Some of the really special items we found were my mom’s genealogy (I couldn’t even remember my great grandparents’ names), photos from the 1920s and 1930s, my mother-in-law’s wedding dress (which I actually retrieved from the garbage after we found her wedding photos and realized the error), old love letters (which will remain anonymous to protect the innocent), old coins, old books from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and old address books belonging to my mom and my mother-in-law (which really helps put the puzzle together.

Our decision to simplify our life has been completely validated as a result of this entire process.  I think I will experience the effects of the stuff “hangover” for a very long time and I’m thrilled to know that I will have far less stuff to clutter my space and mind and far more time to enjoy life.


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).