A bundled up run in some rare bluebird sun helps me to remember.
I’ve created so many short video/photo compilations over the years, always making my best choice of transition for each scene change. Transitions can spin, slide, or puzzle. They can open a story or close it. I often use the crossfade transition where one image gently gives way to the next, and it seems that pretty much describes the way our family is making the transition from 2018 to 2019.
We celebrated New Year’s Eve by gearing up with lights and lacing on our spiked shoes for a run through sloppy snow in the Resolution Run 5K. Since moving to Anchorage in 2012, we’ve enjoyed the easy access to the running community. Living close to downtown, we’ve run many races and have quite a t-shirt collection, but this was the first time we’ve participated in this particular race. The event was festive and fun and we will definitely plan to run this race again.
Afterward, we came home, Facetimed with family, and then in the final hours of 2018, Ryan built us a fire and we sat around the living room looking at pictures from 2018. A lot has changed since this time last year. There have been some huge shifts from what what was to what is. A few of them I anticipated, but most…..not so much.
In January 2018, we did not have a dog and did not have any plans for one. Ginger arrived in August. And for very many reasons, we are so glad to have her here.
In January, we had not started our remodel, but the contractor was chosen and the flooring was on order.
We anticipated Mom and Dad would live with us for big chunks of the year, and indeed, having Mom here (and Dad, when he could get away from work) through the spring and into the early summer was truly a gift. And not just because they tackled enormous yard clean up projects when the snow finally thawed.
Last January, I was working 18 hours a week at the library, shelving books and complaining about how it hurt my hands, but had no plans to quit. When our June travel took us to Kentucky for a wedding and Nashville for the airport and the pool, I used the break for my exit plan. My hands have been ever so grateful, but I suspect they may never entirely recover.
At the end of June, my dear friend and college roommate brought her family all the way from Montreal to spend 10 days with us. We had so much fun traipsing around our favorite haunts, sharing our life with them. What a tremendous gift, this friendship through the years and across the miles.
And speaking of friendship across time, a couple of David’s childhood friends came to visit over Labor Day, and the three guys did a fabulous job creating Alaska memories together and tapping back into rich, deep friendship. Also. they passed reading glasses out every time they needed to read a map or study a travel brochure.
My aunt and uncle and their family came to explore Alaska at the end of July. Cousins and second cousins. It was a delight to have them all here and when they left I found myself wistful yet again–thinking about the choices we’ve made, the path that we’ve followed to bring us here, so far from home. Thankfully, there is an antidote for that ever true sense of loss and grief, and we can find it in the friendships and community we are making here, keeping us anchored well in this place. I look forward to the coming year as these relationships and opportunities continue to unfold.
When we bought the house in November 2017, we took out insurance to cover us for Airbnb rentals, but did not have specific plans to use it. But after summer family and friends left and my parents had no plans to return, we opened up as an Airbnb and found ourselves full blast busy through the end of tourist season and beyond. It continues to be a useful side gig and we have stories to tell.
When I first started thinking about this January as compared to last, I thought that we had not yet imagined also homeschooling Ethan, but when I looked back at a January 2018 journal entry I discovered that rumblings had indeed started. Ethan had such a great experience at Inlet View Elementary that I never anticipated that he’d choose to join us at home for his middle school years, but when school started in August that is exactly what he did. It’s been a full-time demand on me to be a homeschooling mom this school year, but I couldn’t be more delighted with the growth and goodness I see in my boys. I don’t know how the next couple years are going to unfold for them, nor what it will mean for me, but I am learning to trust the process.
I guess the last bullet point on my mind, when I think about the crossfade, is David’s job. It’s what brought us here and it’s probably what will frame our eventual leaving. But meanwhile, it’s in a slooooow crossfade of its own. He works for the city utility company and in 2018 the city began the process of selling to another local utility company. By the end of 2019 the deal should be done and we will know more fully what the change means for us.
As I look into this new year I suppose I know about as much as I ever know about the details to come. In some things, less. In others, more. Mostly what I know is that I will keep showing up. Because that is what I do. And along the way I will discover ever more how grateful I am for this place, these people, this life. And also, this dog.
Several weeks ago I wrote a really long post about being grumpy in August in Alaska. The fireweed had largely burned out and I was certain I’d be stuck under all those dark heavy rain clouds until they finally gave way to snow.
But then the unexpected happened. September showed up with record breaking warmth and dry air. We went 25 straight days without rain IN OUR RAINY SEASON. “I could live here!” I said repeatedly. So much September sunshine. It’s a weird thing to thoroughly enjoy what is not supposed to be. It felt a bit eerie. But also – what a gift!! We had a rather rough, cold summer, and an August that was a bit warmer than normal, but just as wet as expected. And so. Walking in warm September Sunshine!?! YES PLEASE.
Six years ago we moved to Anchorage in the middle of a crazy Labor Day rainstorm. That cold fall rain gave way to our first cold, dark winter. It was a challenging start, but I hung on and eventually emerged from the dark only to discover there were suddenly lots and lots of people also walking my neighborhood. All the emotional work I’d invested in surviving this place! and these people and their fancy cameras just drop in to soak in the glory. Alas, I quickly fell in step with the rhythm of life in a tourist town and, truth told, I like hanging out with the visitors. I’ve heard some interesting stories and gotten to tell my own #alaskamagic tales.
Living downtown through these years, I’ve had a front row seat to tourist traffic. Sometimes while waiting for dinner at a restaurant in the summer my boys and I entertain ourselves with a little observing and judging game we made up >> Tourist or Local? (Down coats in July are judged Tourist. Kids with names like Aurora and Denali are judged Local.)
I always feel bad for the people who show up during a rainy stretch of days. Hunkered deep inside their raincoats they soldier on, but watching them I can’t help but think they’re getting a rotten deal. I know how amazing this place can be. Alaska is a bucket list destination and it’s no small feat to get here. To stand in downtown Anchorage and not be able to see a mountain for the rain clouds is a rip off.
In mid-August this year we listed our downstairs apartment on airbnb and called it Fireweed and Snow. Summer and Winter. The seasons that give shape to our ways of life in this town. We caught the tail end of the summer tourist season with our little airbnb experiment, and we’ve had a nonstop stream of people coming through looking to find their own stories of #alaskamagic. Some of them have been so very lucky with sunshine and gorgeous Alaska views. Some of them…not so much.
Over the years that I’ve lived here I’ve often been asked, when should I come visit? I tell people that their chance to experience the breathtaking beauty of Alaska improves with every day they can stay. I do have insight and observations that can increase the possibilities for getting a taste of #alaskamagic. But that’s all I’ve got. And there’s a really good chance that I’ll be wrong. I’ve come to understand this as a sort of metaphor for life. Show up for ALL the days. Some of them will be so gloomy grey. There’s no way around it, a drenching is what you get. Some days are warm sunshine and mountains beyond mountains. Some days are goodness and joy. Others are a gut punch of disappointment and grief. Keep showing up.
Doing so, it turns out, teaches me to see #alaskamagic even in the storm.
A trip to Zambia, house hunting in Alaska, and a new puppy. Facebook has been serving me some life-changing “on this day” memories.
Six years ago David and I flew to Anchorage to find a house to rent. I was sooooo grumpy that weekend. David likes to remind me that just 10 months earlier I had happily agreed to move with him to Alaska with hardly a second thought. It is true that the previous fall, when he asked me what I thought about his opportunity to take a field engineering position for 2-3 years in Anchorage, I was all in. The adventure was appealing, the money would be good, I could be flexible. Unfortunately our move date depended on how the project timeline developed in Alaska and so I couldn’t even pencil a target into my calendar. Time ticked by and as our move plodded toward reality, my eagerness faded. We sold our house in preparation for the move and it was hard living in the in between. I was engaging new projects in the Portland area, friendships were deepening, and our kids were getting older. The move to Alaska felt increasingly like disruption.
I had just barely landed back in the country after a work trip to Zambia and was not at all interested in moving to Alaska a couple weeks later, but there I was on this August weekend, flying to Alaska to make decisions that would set the course of my life in ways I could not yet imagine. I got off the plane in Anchorage that Friday afternoon in a very bad mood. I was convinced we could not find a good place for our family to live with just this short weekend to look and decide. And besides, I didn’t want to live here anyway.
Poor David was caught between a good career opportunity and an angry wife who was convinced nothing good was about to happen. The grey sky matched my mood and hung heavy over our heads as we got our rental car and left the airport that afternoon. And then, while checking into our hotel near the airport, they casually mentioned that their wifi was down and it might not be up again till the following day. I KNEW IT.
But in fact, we managed to solve that problem quickly by booking an overnight stay at a downtown Bed & Breakfast – with wifi. On to the actual problem. How could we choose a neighborhood and find a house for our family in just three days? Against the cool August air, gloomy sky, and my grumbling spirits, the first thing we looked at, a bland midtown condo, was not the least bit tempting. Now, all these years later, I find myself driving by that place nearly every day and sometimes I remember what it was to look out those windows onto the busy highway and across the street to the high school. Angry, trapped, perched at the edge of panic. We quickly decided No and moved on to dinner where I studied Craigslist and David made a few phone calls and sent emails. I was in a rotten mood.
I suppose we drove around some neighborhoods later that evening. I don’t remember specifically looking at anything else, but perhaps we did. We had several appointments set for the next morning. First up, a house in south Anchorage. It was a newer home and nice. The yard was landscaped nicely and it was huge. The location was a short bike ride over to Kincaid Park. We imagined the layout, where would our family and friends stay when they came to visit as promised? We imagined what it would be like to live in the “suburbs,” a kind of a cookie cutter neighborhood with a nondescript, but nice, house and a landscaped yard and a huge play structure. The house we’d just sold had a long list of needed improvements and its “landscaping” suffered from my insatiable compulsion to dig holes.
Choosing a neighborhood from scratch raised all kinds of questions. What kind of people are we anyway? This house held interesting possibility even if it didn’t feel like an obvious fit. But we weren’t buying it. As renters, the stakes were much lower. This whole exercise was an exploration of self in so many ways. However, when we learned that the landlords were moving out of this house and into the house next door, our decision came clear. Our boys were accustomed to a semi-wild backyard where they could explore and play and even ride their bikes. Learning how to live in a structured backyard under the watchful eye of the landlord? No thank you.
We moved on to look midtown in the Roger’s Park neighborhood, an older community with nice sidewalks and trees and appealing yards, but the houses available there weren’t great options for us. There was another house or two in the mix. And then the house off of Goldenview Drive. That listing seemed pretty much amazing, but it was on the south edge of town, up the side of a mountain and we had no idea what that would actually mean. We made a phone call, but couldn’t see it until Sunday morning so we went to lunch at Fire Island Bake Shop.
I perched at a high table along the crowded back wall of the busy bakery and grumped about our situation, reviewing yet again the impossibility of our task. My mood had clearly not improved by running into the dead end of our morning work and having no afternoon plan. With nothing else to talk about, I flipped open my computer and clicked Craigslist again. But Wait! This is interesting, I said as I read a brand new headline listing a house on the west end of the Park Strip. It boasted views of mountains beyond the Inlet and lots of square footage. I called immediately and within the hour we were meeting the property manager at the house.
We started that house tour on the ground floor, seeing the recently remodeled master bedroom + bath, and large TV room, and then we went down to the basement where I was delighted by the wall to wall bookshelves. Wow! I honestly exclaimed, as if I’d actually ever want to spend time in a windowless basement. Oh, you just wait, the Property Manager said, and turned to lead us back up the stairs and then up another flight to the kitchen/dining/living room.
Sunshine had split the clouds to pieces by the time we stepped into that room, and warm light streamed through the three huge windows that hung across the south wall. The view looked over the houses on the hillside below, and out across the wide water to a horizon line of snow-capped mountains. It was breathtaking. Basement bookcases?Never mind. I can live here! I breathed in that gorgeous view. David breathed in sweet relief.
But there was one last property we needed to check. We had 24 hours to make our decision. The next morning we drove out to see the house up on the mountainside, south of town. Set on a fairly secluded 1/4 acre with 2-story floor to ceiling south facing windows the unobstructed inlet/mountain views were stunning. It was like a retreat center. Something you’d see in an Alaska travel magazine as you added bullet points to your bucket list. It was the same price as that house downtown. We were in a position to choose. But how?
We took a short walk around the block and studied the neighboring yards – this one had bikes in the yard, that one a trampoline. We imagined what our boys would experience, spending a couple years living way up here on the side of a mountain. We calculated David’s commute and considered the impact of snow and ice. We hadn’t come to any conclusions as we backed out of the gravel driveway and turned our car back toward town. Just about then a black bear cub scrambled across the road and alarm bells rang loud in my head. I don’t know how to be a mother in Alaska!
And so there we were. Sunday afternoon with a decision to make. While we worked on that, we took a tourist detour and drove down to Aleyeska for the tram ride up the mountain. The annual Aleyeska blueberry festival was in full swing and sunshine was beating back clouds to make a cheerful backdrop for our deliberations. My camera battery was dead, but this picture from my phone is what showed up yesterday in my Facebook memory feed. Back down from the tram ride, I phoned a friend and she listened as I quickly outlined our choices. What I’d seen. What I thought. She knows me well and heard the layers of fear and excitement, frustration and uncertainty all tangled in my words. She helped me sort through my weekend of thoughts and feelings, looking for some wisdom for this moment of decision, then she asked the illuminating question: What will you do in the deep winter dark? My answer was clear and strong: I would need lights. I would need streets I could walk. I would need access to people. We left Aleyeska and met the property manager at the house downtown.
I started writing this post because I’d been thinking about the rain that fell steadily out my window all day. That picture of the David and me had just come through my facebook feed, and I recalled the moment we exchanged our signatures and money for keys to the house. The property manager turned to me and said, Just remember, the blue sky doesn’t come with the house.
I never imagined I’d still be in Alaska, 6 years later. I don’t like Alaska in August now anymore than I liked it on that first hard August weekend. I still have mixed up emotions about living here. One moment you’ll hear me tell delighted stories of awe and wonder about the #alaskamagic of this place. But very possibly my next sentence will be a complaint about the rain or the bears or the very long way from home.
I’m feeling more grump than awe and wonder these days. The grey August sky has been hard. I’m grateful for our house and I love our neighborhood. Just a few blocks from where we started, it turns out we really could choose our neighborhood in just three days. But having bought a house near the Lagoon last fall, this is the first August that I’ve lived in Alaska and haven’t had the gift of a mountain view out my window. It’s also the first summer since we’ve lived here that I haven’t escaped for an Oregon fix of sunshine and produce and family and friends.
But I’m gonna be okay. I run in the rain and I watch for long views. I have walkable streets and lots of people. Sometimes the sun even breaks through and I rejoice in its warmth and sweet light.