About kaiserswest

A wife and mother to 3 amazing sons, and grandma to 6 (and counting) beautiful grandchildren. This is just a place where I can muse on things in my life and the world around me. I don't pretend to be a great writer or theologian, historian or blogger, but I'd love you to join me on this journey!

Falling into winter….

It is that time of year, again. Here in Alaska, the leaves start going yellow. We usually have that one night where we go to sleep and awaken to all the leaves yellowed and falling off. We are almost there. We have termination dust – that’s the first bit of snow on the peaks, letting us know summer has been terminated. And I am sad, and yet I am ready, too.

Matanuska Glacier

We took some friends around Alaska the past couple of weeks (they stayed 11 days and it was such a blessing) and it is amazing how quickly the summer was ending. We wore sweatshirts almost daily, and we usually were dealing with some off and on rain. Seeing as how they were from Oregon, rainfall was not an issue for them. The skies are so clear after a rainfall and it makes these vistas so breath-taking. I try to remind myself how blessed I am to live in this incredible place so many millions have on their “bucket list.” For some, Alaska is a place to visit, but they could not imagine living here. And I am very okay with that. For me, it is a dream-come-true. I recall joining some “Save the Whale” groups back in college, complete with coffee mugs and bumper stickers. So much of the literature was about Alaska and I dreamt of leaving Southern California for the “Last Frontier.” Only took me another 40 or so years, but I made it. And I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Eagles dining on the Kenai River

I still sit in wonder and awe some days. We were blessed to be offered a chance to stay in a cabin on the Kenai River with our son and his family for an extended weekend. What a trip. The trip, in and of itself, should have an entire book written about it. That is for another time. The photo above occurred on our first night. We sat at our table on the shore of the river, dining on grilled steaks and some amazing garlic potatoes, while we were privileged to watch two adults and 1 juvenile Bald Eagle eat their dinner. It was like having National Geographic up close and personal. The site brought us all to silence as they flew in and out, enjoying fresh-caught salmon. And I felt so blessed.

Fishing the Kenai River

Watching our grandchildren fish for the first time was such a joy. They were having a ball, just casting away. They aren’t big on particulars; they just loved the process. And their interaction with their grandpa made my heart just soar. They all had so much fun and he was one of the biggest kids out there. These small snippets of time we grab with family make for a lifetime of memories, if we can hold on to them. This weekend was insane insofar as disasters and mishaps, but like our son said, “We did it!” We made it to our destination and we crammed in as much sightseeing and being family as we could. And it was very, very worth all the hassles.

Sunset with Dad and his dogs

We discovered our dogs are amazing travelers and adapted to our car and a cabin, instead of our truck and trailer just fine. They also discovered life on the Kenai River and were loving splashing around in it, seeing all the fish near the shoreline. They loved watching all that nature was throwing at them and we loved having them alongside us. We are so pleased that we have two dogs to accompany us on our many adventures in the future. Kolbe (Black Standard Poodle aged 2) and Maggie (his sister, a cafe au lait Standard Poodle, aged 5 months). Between us and our son and his family, we had 6 dogs along with us on our trip and it was just so fun. It wasn’t too much of a hassle and they all did so well. More of these trips are waiting for us next camping season. And I am so excited for next summer. Hopefully both families will have acquired better trucks to get us where we want to go by the time the snow melts and there is once again Spring in the air!

New Wood Stove and Surround of Fossil Rock and Granite

Our summer house project was pulling out our gas surround and installing a wood stove. It was the project of “I know a guy.” It was hilarious as well as costly. But you know what? I am beyond thrilled with the results. I started this post 2 weeks ago, and since then we have had our first snow. We had to race to get the veggies out of the garden. Harvesting our peas was an adventure in frozen fingers and ravenous dogs – who knew dogs would love peas and their pods so much? My husband has been working tirelessly to save what we could from the frost and snow. And I’ve been busily processing that bounty. So when we got our stove finally installed, I almost wept with joy. It is a gorgeous brown enamel (Chestnut) and it burns cleanly and efficiently up to 30 hours! It warms our entire home. And the installation came right as we got our first snow. How great is that????

One of the most amazing things is the the rock comes from Alaska and it is almost exclusively “fossil rock.” As I sit and look at it I can see fossilized leaves, stems, sticks, and shells. And it makes the archeologist in me just glow. To be surrounded by local history that is 1000s of years old is just amazing. Our son put in lights above the stove and the way the rocks are highlighted makes me feel like I am in a museum! Watching our stone mason (another “guy”) work was watching a master craftsman. It was incredible how he made all the pieces fit perfectly. A game of Tetris in real life. Another “guy” in the project was the granite man. He measured that so perfectly, when they installed it there was no gap anywhere. I was stunned. He was hilarious, too. In a Russian accent he schooled me on the differences between average and works of art. After our discussion and his measuring, he told me he knew what I wanted. We went to his stone yard and he picked this piece out for us. It was a perfect choice. I loved working with all the “guys” on this project, as haphazard as all the recommendations were. So funny. “I know a guy” – hilarious.

Some of our harvested veggies…

And so I have learned more than I ever thought possible about preserving vegetables. I have had catastrophic failures and some major successes. I have learned to can salmon and how to vacuum seal. I have made my own cole slaw from everything in my garden. I have 50 pounds of tomatoes waiting on processing, but I also froze sliced leeks, and shredded, halved and whole cabbages. I learned to blanch and freeze peas. I am putting potatoes and carrots down in the crawlspace with gunny sacks and sand. Who knew? I fermented some sweet peas with garlic and onion (from my garden). A friend made us cabbage rolls and we have relished each meal we have had of them. I am getting ready to take an online canning class this afternoon. Why not? I have so much to learn of all these lost arts. I was pushed to the academic side of life by my parents and never was taught all the womanly arts of keeping a home and feeding a family. We never grew anything – we had gardeners most of my life. The only time we had something to eat from our yard is when we bought a house with a fig tree. My brother and I hated that thing. We used to throw figs at each other and I never recall my mom doing a thing with them, other than to tell us to rake them up and put them in the garbage can out back. I was never modeled all the things I have talked about in this post. And so for me, this summer was packed full of new things. My brain feels like it is going to explode and still, there is more.

The world is spiraling out of control. Keeping my feet in the dirt has helped me in so many ways. I loved gardening. And I never knew I would. It gave me peace when all around me is quarantined and locked down. When the doors of the Church were locked to me, I could garden. When my Church was afraid, I was gardening. It has been a revelation to watch things grow; to get my hands so dirty I would just have to cut my nails to get them clean. And it gave me time in the sunshine to commune with God and with my dogs, and alongside my husband. It filled me when the world around me was sucking me dry. I got to learn what it is like to load all my stuff in our little trailer and camp away from it all, with our son and daughter-in-law, grandkids, and all our 6 dogs. We spent time as a family and it was – and is – precious to me.

While everything is out of control and our world is literally falling apart around us, if we keep an eye on God, He will be in everything. And I trust God more than I trust man. Will things get worse? More than likely. We are trying to plan for the worst, but hope for the best, as the saying goes. But all the while, we keep focused on God. Because in the end, not only is God the victor, that is truly all that matters. Keep your head up – focus on God -pray – and live your life to its upmost. Do not live in, nor accept, a life lived in fear. Find your joy amidst this chaos. And be sure your preparations are twofold – practical and spiritual. Because I am feeling something is coming. Not sure what, but something ominous is coming. Pray for your friends and family, pray for our country, and pray for God’s merciful blessings. And prepare.

Amazing photo with our dogs on the road to Homer, Alaska

Awake in the night….

Dreams

As I have gotten older, sleep has become so elusive. I recall being able to lay down and as my head hit the pillow, fall right to sleep. No longer. It has been happening for a number of years and I find it exhausting. Falling asleep mid-day? Absolutely no problem. I can nap like nobody’s business. Some days I just cannot continue doing what I am doing and I just sit and am out like a light. For about an hour. And then I am up and refreshed and ready to go all night long. I have tried melatonin and for the most part, it has greatly helped me to fall asleep. I found one that is time-released and that is perfect for me. But then, we got a puppy. It has only been in the past week or two she has let us sleep all night (she is now 4 months old) and so I may try that one again.

Last night I took my usual vitamins and my “Immunpro” (a product from Young Living with all sorts of immunity-boosting goodies in it) which has melatonin. I take two and that is about 6mg, which in melatonin world, is mild. But it gets me into a deep sleep. I am one of those people with a fussy tummy when it comes to vitamins, so I take all mine at night. I figure if my tummy gets upset, I will sleep through it. So far, so good. Well, last night was the night after our 2-year-old puppy was neutered. I think these “victorian collars” or “collars of shame” are horrible. But it does stop him from licking his wounds. About 3am he was up and wanting to go outside, which got the puppy up. ((sigh)) Another long puppy-parent night. My husband got up with them and was so good about getting everyone settled back in for the rest of the night.

Awake at night…

There I was, wide awake. I could hear the puppy snoring. Hubby was keeping time. The older pup trying to get comfy with that collar on him. And me. Staring at the ceiling fan, which I turn on because the dogs seem to settle better when it is running at night. And my brain just racing. I prayed and drifted off. And then – BAM – my dream woke me up. This was so weird because as I was dreaming, I heard me tell myself (weird) that I had no mother. And in my dream I was telling my mom all about my veggies and the puppy and our new wood stove project. And yet, I was standing behind myself, telling me my mom had died and I had no mom. I sat up suddenly, realizing my mom had died. She died at the end of May and here it is August, and I am waking up, missing my mom, and realizing she is truly gone. Grief is so weird and it pops up at the oddest times. And I realized I miss her. A lot. And with Alzheimer’s you start missing them as they progress and as they come to not recognize who you are, the pain increases. But I think on some level I still wanted her mothering; I wanted to share with her and I realized I cannot ever do that, again. It broke my heart all over again. And then I started thinking about my boys and my grand babies and how I will be gone from their lives in the not-so-distant-future, and it made me cry. And then I reached for my husband, to be sure he was still there, because leaving him will hurt the most.

For my husband.

And so this morning, I sort of dragged my raggedy behind out of bed. We slept in until just 15 minutes before my husband had an online meeting. We were rushed. Then he showered and was out the door, into the rain. It is dismal and dark and dripping and just yucky today. It is perfect for weepy me. Because as I am fully awake, I am missing my mom. I am angry that Alzheimer’s took her so many years ago and I feel gypped that I did not get more time with her. Yes, she was in her 90s, but we were never close. I’ve been married 37 years this year and these past 5 years are the most I’ve spent with my mom as an adult. And dang it, I wanted more time. And I keep thinking that I want my kids to know this pain of losing a parent, so that we can spend time together and make memories. But I also realize they are on their own trajectory to places and people and things that have nothing to do with me. It makes me yearn and hunger for it, but I know it is quite normal these days for young people to value their lives that are apart from their parents, and I guess I just need to adjust my expectations for more relationship with them. My love will never diminish, but I will learn to focus elsewhere.

Kolbe and Maggie

Our puppies are keeping us busy. Our new trailer has yet to be broken in, but I intend to do that before the snow gets here. Our garden is so much more than we expected and it keeps me busy. I can’t believe how exciting it is to see your first purple cauliflower bloom and to squeal in joy that your broccoli is flowering. I crack myself up, but I am loving being in the garden. A friend is challenging me to learn how to make my own tinctures and to possibly start a hydroponic garden in our dining room, as well as to grow our own mushrooms indoors ((not the magical kind – the medicinal and frying-for-a-steak kind)). There is still much to learn in life and I am open to it all. I am awaiting my fermenting equipment to arrive as I have over 40 cabbages to harvest and my husband desperately wants sauerkraut! I also ordered a book on fermenting vegetables, since I have no clue. Oh, and a crock to ferment them all in. So many firsts I wish I could share with my mom! She would never believe I could can salmon and vacuum seal my food. She would be absolutely stunned that I am gardening. LOL. But, life is what it is and we have to move on.

My focus is trying to be healthy in what I read, watch, listen to, who I invite into my circle, and what we eat. Eating as close to the ground and as local as I possibly can. Getting to bed at a good hour each night. No electronics in the bedroom (I do keep my phone there but it is dark while it charges). Trying to pray myself to sleep. And keeping a good vitamin/supplement regimen. I am hoping with all that implemented, I will be sleeping better and be more energized during my days. I gave up caffeine and sugar – I thought that would be instrumental. But there is so much more we can do for ourselves. Get right with those you love. Say “I love you” too often and too regularly that you’re becoming annoying. Call that friend you haven’t spoken to in ages. Take a stand for what is truth and what is right in the world. Stand your ground. Live your faith. Be a good person. And when you lay your head on your pillow, sigh and smile at the great day you had, and sleep soundly. That is the plan!

Happy Dreaming

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir

The photo above is of Mt. Susitna, or “Sleeping Lady.” It is here, in Alaska. And the story about her is one of my favorite traditional folk tales from the Alaska native peoples.

Utqiagvik

My son is heading to Barrow for at least a week for work. It is the northernmost city populated year round, and within the USA. The city has changed its name back to its original name, Utqiaġvik. It is pronounced, “oot — kay-ahg — vik.” Up there is where they have total darkness for the winter part of the year, and total sunshine for the summer part of the year. Life there, for the original native population, is not one many of us could have survived, back in ancient times. Even today, life there is much harder than the normal suburban housewife could handle. Prices for simple things like milk and cereal are insane. A gallon of milk is $10 and a box of Fruit Loops is $9.73. It’s almost impossible to imagine those sorts of prices. But the people survive. And it is what I look to when I want to see an example of strength and the ability to survive. History has not shared the full tale, but I know it is magnificent, if just known by its folklore. I cannot wait to hear my son’s stories when he gets back home. I am so excited he gets to see and stay in such a remarkable place.

Mt. Denali

I have been noticing that I am drawn more and more to the simple, the quiet, the serene, the natural. I would much prefer a mountain vista with a lake or stream than a high rise and traffic. I have no desire to uproot myself from the heaven-on-earth I live in to explore elsewhere. One of the reasons is because I have allowed myself to find my comfort zone, and to be comfortable there.

When we first relocated here, almost 10 years ago now, I was incessantly trying to get my friends from the lower 48 to see what I saw. To enjoy what I enjoy. Most everyone who has not taken to where I choose to live, have pretty much the same list of their reasons why not to live here:

  1. Too cold
  2. Too remote
  3. Too expensive
  4. Too rural
  5. Too frontier and not civilized enough

And you know what? I can see that. I really can. I was more than ready for summer after a pretty cold winter. This summer is not impressing me – we are having a few sunny days but most are overcast and in the 50s. This entire week we expect rain and 50s daily. I want sun! And this week is my grandson’s All Star tournament – every day – baseball in rain. Fun.

So I understand the objections. I was born and raised in Southern California. I know hot. And I know beach (born in Santa Monica). I know crowds, smog, and traffic, too. High taxes. Insane real estate prices. Yeah. I know SoCal. I miss my family and friends, but not the place. And I realized that my comfort zone does not include hot weather. I’d rather put on a jacket to get warmer than suffer in sweltering heat, relying on my A/C in the house or the car. And learning to get comfortable with who you are is such a hard step to take. I don’t much care for what others think of me anymore. I am here to please (1) my God, (2) my husband, and (3) my family. Friends are the flowers we carry through life. They are the extras we are blessed with to enjoy this journey.

Three Ladies in the Rain

I am blessed with some friends who I have had for decades. We shared marrying, and birthing and raising our kids, soccer, baseball, pizza parties, vacations and holidays, losing our parents, date nights, card playing, shopping, and tea times. We have gone through a lot together, holding each other’s hands when we needed to and celebrating when we were able to. And those friends will be with me until my last breath. And I am a blessed woman.

When we moved here, making connections was more difficult. People who choose to live here are a different bunch. They are hard-scrabble, as my grandma would say. I have met some friends here who have challenged me and who have changed me. For the better, I think. I am not as dependent in some ways, and more so in others. I have learned the importance of my community. I have learned more about infrastructure and supply chain dynamics than I thought I needed to know. And it has informed my conscious and has made both my husband and I change things in our daily lives. And realizing the things I thought I needed, I have no real need of. I can go all day without turning on the TV. I love walking through my garden, barefooted, battling weeds and swatting at mosquitoes. I love hanging out with my husband and he and I planning and enjoying our plans come to life. It is a good life. I am content. I am happy. I am where I am supposed to be. And I am making connections along the way. It is good.

The infamous sars virus that invaded our lives made us change, too. Smaller circle of friends, more prepared for disasters. Disappointed in how our local and state and federal government handled this. And deeply disappointed in how the Church handled it (so much for trusting in God over some man-made disease). Our faith has become more personal, and I actually think that is a bonus we can take from all this. And we have taken a look at how we live in relationship to the services we can use from local agencies. One of the changes we are in the midst of making is changing from a pretty, flick-a-switch-on-the-wall gas fireplace to a real, honest-to-goodness, cast-iron wood stove. My only requirement? It had to be pretty. And boy, is it gorgeous. I cannot wait for the construction to be over and to be able to light it up! We are also surrounding it with fossil rock. As an anthropology major, getting the opportunity to have real fossils, from Alaska, on my fireplace walls, is beyond exciting. The stove is brown-enameled cast iron and it is shiny and pretty and I am so excited. And I can take the pretty top off and cook on it, if I need to! Pretty and practical – I’d call that a win-win!

Cast Iron Humidifier

My stove will look like the cute humidifier I got for it. Gorgeous brown enamel. You fill it with water and set it on the stove and it humidifies the house! So simple and so elegant looking, at the same time. So far all I do with it is dust it! Soon it will have its home on our wood stove – and it is a perfect match!

Why would we pull out a gas fireplace? Well, when we had the big earthquake a couple of years ago, we lost power. We could actually get the fireplace to start, but the electric blowers did not work. The heat stayed right by the fireplace. We had no lights and no way to run our appliances. We were not bad off in comparison to others, but it made us think. We also rushed to the store that day and even though things were all over the floors, the store was open, workers were there, and water was selling out. It made us realize we needed to be more independent of stores, electric and gas companies, and water suppliers. We have since looked at where our food comes from. We now buy local – we try to source everything we can locally. Keeping our small economy running.

One of our raised beds

We also started to take care of our own food supply. There are so many ways we can all be more independent. This is one way. Control your own food. Plant only what you like to eat, that will grow where you live. You can grow enough at a townhouse or apartment, if you want to. Container gardening is almost easier than a full-on acre garden like we have. We also have a greenhouse with our tomatoes, peppers, and dill, keeping them nice and warm.

If a disaster should strike, and food becomes scarce, where will you find enough to eat? You can store canned and freeze-dried food (but you need water to eat freeze dried) and you can also store water. About 1/2 gallon per person, per day. You need about a week’s worth of supplies, at least. If power grids fail, if gas lines rupture, if water pipes burst…what are you going to do? If violence erupts and stores close, are you supplied? What if there is another lockdown? Do you have what you need? What if the computer system crashes and we can’t use ATMs or our debit cards at places like gas stations and grocery stores? What will you have to trade or bargain with? Cash on hand? Politics control most of our lives and the powers-that-be are moving into our food supply (artificial shortages). Have you priced simple lumber these days? Artificial shortage. Research it. The government mandating farmers not farm? Research it.

Sleeping Lady

And all this leads me to why I wrote about the mountains – and for me, that is Alaska. I fled the chaos for the serenity of a quieter life; a life closer to most of my kids (there’s one who is moving even further away, but at least he’ll be out of CA); a more purposeful life…and a life near mountains. All around me in Alaska are mountains. I get all 4 seasons. (I do get more winter than fall, more summer than spring, but they all appear). I am now exerting myself into more control of my life, rather than relying on the system. Living “closer to the dirt,” as the saying goes. Off grid? Not hardly. But I know people who live that way and I sort of envy them. (I am spoiled in that I require running water, and a water heater). I’m not that brave. But I can strive for more than who I was and what I was capable of doing.

And so I have decided to get another tattoo…this one will be of Sleeping Lady, much like what is above. I love the mountains, they truly call me, and I love the story of Sleeping Lady.

For a brief overview, the Sleeping Lady story is about a race of giants. It is about a girl named Susitna and boy named Nekatla. They were deeply in love. It is about war and faith, community and life, and remaining steadfast. All of the story is filled with honorable traits of having a good character. The story says that when there is peace again on the earth, Susitna will awaken. It inspires me (look up the full folk tale for yourself – it is beautiful). And it fulfills my love of ancient cultures, and the mountains. And one day I hope the truth of the history of these ancient peoples comes to light. Perhaps then, Susitna will awaken.

Squirrel!

You know how they made fun of the dog in that movie, “Up,” where he would get so distracted by the simplest things? He was “Dug the Dog.” Kind of a perfect name for a dog. Sometimes we are like Dug the Dog, we are working and moving along just fine and then – boom! – distraction! Squirrel!

Dug the Dog

Grief is just so weird. Because in my rational, scientific mind, I KNOW my mom is better off. I know she is no longer suffering. I know, that with Alzheimer’s, there really is no quality of life. She existed, yes; but mom was not really living. She had small joys and the home in which she lived was perfect for her. She was happy. But she also was not herself. She had lost herself inside the disease. Certainly not the woman who had borne and raised me. So I KNOW all this, and yet I still miss her deeply, knowing I can never get a mom hug again. She gave good hugs. And I also KNOW that life goes on. It totally does. Laundry needs to be washed, meals prepared, gardens planted, etc. Life moves fast, and if you don’t keep up, it passes you by.

Raised Beds

For my husband and myself, our world has been focused on creating raised beds in our yard, In getting our vegetable starts going indoors. Trying to be as independent as we can be. But homesteading, or making your yard into a sustainable food production process, is exhausting. Truly tiring. My husband was on a tractor for 3 days this weekend. I was repotting our starts into bigger pots. We had a central focus, and it was all we were thinking about. And then we realized we needed to make time to attend Church. Which we did.

The Mass was wonderful. We had a guest priest from Kenai. He was amazing. His homily about the Holy Trinity just hit me center-beam. And I fell apart. I could not stop crying. I kept thinking about my mom. It had been 1 week since she had died. And as I listened to the priest talk about the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit” I related to the Blessed Mother, Who carried the Trinity within Her. (Of course, as a mother, I related to Her pregnancy, not that my children are the Trinity. Far from it). But I thought about how it would have been to be that close to my mom. I was once inside of her, and she loved me deeply. Her disease took that relationship from me. And for that, I really hate Alzheimer’s. But my point is that simple words from a priest were “squirrel” for me. I was suddenly off into a world of grief. And all throughout Sunday, little squirrel moments kept happening. I would see something and think of my mom and cry. Sigh. Grief hits at the oddest times and it can be so very strong.

Seedlings under a grow light

There is something cathartic about helping plants grow from seeds to a meal on your plate. I laugh because my little plants get their greeting from me every morning and a goodnight every evening. It now takes about 45 minutes to water my starters. We have plans to move more of them out into our raised beds this evening. We have the blessing of daylight until rather late! Our sunrise was at 4:33 today and our sunset will be 11:23 this evening. It’s a long day and it will only get longer as summer wears on. Life is moving fast. My little seedlings went from seed to plant to having fruit on them in a matter of weeks. Harvest will be quite soon. The squirrel in that scenario would be a random storm or frost.

In my life, the squirrel, or off-setting moment, was mom’s death. I walk around all day and I am just fine. I hold something of hers and I just cry. It’s been only two weeks, and it seems like forever. This morning, I threw away some flowers that had been sent to me in recognition/sympathy for mom’s passing. I spent a few minutes washing the container, just crying at how quickly it passed. The time since she has been gone. Life moves so fast. I am getting all this Medicare stuff in the mail because of my upcoming birthday, and it is a reminder to me that I am not guaranteed my next breath. Life is gaining speed. My seedlings are ready to go out into the big world and live their little lifetimes in our raised beds. Mom was 91 years old and her Alzheimer’s too advanced for us to bring her over here. Once she moved out, she was never back here. I wish she could have seen my first, little Tom-Tom tomato. She would have liked that.

Micro Tom Tom

“It all makes sense, now.”

Me and Mom
2017 – Me and Mom

My mom passed away yesterday. She was 91 years old. She died peacefully in her sleep, which is what we all prayed for. Mom suffered for over 13 years with Alzheimer’s. It truly is the most horrible disease – “The Long Goodbye,” as it is known.. Not only do you lose your connection to those around you, but you lose little bits of yourself along the way. Mom had no memory of me, of being married, of having children. During our last visit, she told me she may be gone for awhile because she had made arrangements to go see her parents in New Zealand. And I think they are once again, all together as a family, with God singing Hallelujah! And that brings a smile to my face and forces some joy into my tears.

Mom and I in 2019

Mom and I were blessed to have spent some pretty wonderful moments together. I am not going to sugar-coat anything, because Alzheimer’s totally sucks and it makes life for everyone affected particularly difficult. But you know what? I’d rather remember the laughs and the giggles. The times where she was just so funny and light-hearted. Because mom could be that way. Once we got her off all her medications, this wonderful, kind, and fun old lady emerged and I enjoyed her immensly. During the last few months of her life, she was a happy woman. She loved where she lived, and everyone loved her. I know she could be a stubborn woman and refuse to say, use her walker (which is why she suffered with a broken nose and two broken hips within a year) nor would she stay in her wheelchair when she was asked to. But she could light up a room and make everyone in it glad she was there. Sometimes the comments she would make would cause us all to shake our heads in wonder and think, “Where the heck did that come from?” Near the end, when Alzheimer’s had pretty much won, conversation was virtually impossible. “Isn’t it a lovely day today, Mom? The sun is shining so brightly!” And her response? “You know, you have to weigh wether you want some thing in your life or not. So I put things up and stare at them, and then I decide.” Okie dokie! LOL!

Our face masks together!

One day we decided to have spa day. I did our faces with masks; we soaked our nails and did manicures; I did mom’s hair and my hair. We laughed at how we looked, but it was fun. And I am so glad I did that with her. It is one of my fondest memories of when she lived with us. And as I sat and went through the box of her things, I realized how weird it was that 91 years of life was in a box at my feet. Oh, I have other mementoes and photos, but these things were the things mom had around her these past few months. It was quite the collection: random envelopes with her name on them, but nothing inside. A Carhart clothing tag (Mom owns nothing Carhart). One of those plastic hook things that holds a sales tag onto clothing. 1 glove with no matching one. A broken watch. Some cards from friends. One of the most poignant for me was that she had two photos of my oldest son out from when he was a baby. One next to her bed and the other in the bathroom. He was there and I know it touched him deeply. An Alzheimer’s mind is so interesting!

Mom had an amazing life. Growing up in New Zealand and then coming to America by steamship in the 1950s with my dad and making a life here, away from all that was familiar. She and my dad are both only children, so there are no siblings, no extended family. Mom remained a New Zealand citizen her entire life (we used to call her our “resident alien”) and always felt close to her parents. She thought she would travel back “home” to see them again, and I never once reminded her they had been dead for decades. She never felt called to become an American, and it was one of the quirks I loved about her. That and her New Zealand accent that was coming back as she aged. She had it when I was a kid and I loved it. I’m glad it came back.

I was so blessed to have been introduced to Alzheimer’s Resource Alaska. I took every course they offered. I immersed myself in all things Alzheimer’s. With the consultation of two amazing Care Coordinators, I was advised to get all my mom’s affairs in order, while she was still her, still coherent, and could meaningfully engage in decision making. It was the best advice I could have gotten. Truly. Having that hard conversation about her end-of-life wishes was just that, hard. Asking someone how they want to die, and trying to get care details out of them is rough. But mom and I discussed as many scenarios as we could and each time it was, “I don’t want machines. I don’t want intervention. If it is my time to go, let me go.” The past six months, mom was on hospice care, and we had all the paperwork in place to just allow her body to stop living. At 5:30am yesterday morning, it peacefully did that. Mom chose her end and it happened just the way she wanted it. And we also made all the arrangements for her aftercare. Mom chose to be cremated and so we met with the Cremation Society of Alaska and they came to my home and we had another one of those hard conversations about what mom wanted. They are the kindest people. And it was such a blessing for right now, for today. Why? Because I literally have nothing to do. It is all done. Oh, there are little details, but nothing major, because we planned it all ahead.

People have been texting and calling. Some stupid calls from agencies already wanting to collect the bed she used or the nightstand next to the bed. She’s only been gone 1 day! Ugh. One of my closest friends called and she was being all sweet and kind and I told her to stop being so nice, or I would start bawling all over again. So she says, “Your hair looks bad today.” I love that woman so much! It was exactly what I needed. LOL. A good laugh. And quite honestly I am doing okay, until something stupid happens and I just start crying. Like the cremation man (not sure how else to put that!) called and mentioned mom’s cremains would be ready by Wednesday and I just lost it. Poor guy. He was so kind and I am sure he deals with grief every day. You just don’t know what will trigger it.

Woodland Fern

I was given mom’s wedding ring as they were preparing to take her away. I placed it on my right hand and it fit just perfectly. I thought I would just continue to wear it. As the day progressed it got a little loose but no big deal. My husband and I did some retail therapy after leaving mom yesterday. I’ve been looking for ferns to grow in a shade garden we have and I wanted to stop by this nursery I really like. We stopped and walked around. It was good for me to be outside. We found several varieties of ferns. So today, feeling all mopey and by myself, I decided to plant my ferns. It was good for me. My dog sat next to me while I dug in the dirt. I had bought 6 ferns so I was digging 6 holes. I was down to two more when I realized mom’s ring was not on my finger. I feverishly dug through those newly planted ferns until I found it. I put it back on and just sat there and cried my eyes out. I hope my neighbors don’t think I lost my marbles!!

But one of the things that has stuck with me the most was one of the comments my son made to me, while we were sitting there waiting for them to come and get mom. I was gently stroking her hair (she had the most amazing, soft hair) and he said to me, “I’m feeling kind of happy for Grandma because it all makes sense now, for her. She’s not confused anymore.” And he is right. All this time, with all the things we were doing to help her and she bristled at it, well, now she knows we were helping her. When we visited and told her how much we loved her and we hugged hard (even going against regulations and actually touching her) she now knows why we clung to her so hard. We truly were loving her, but it didn’t make sense to her why these strangers were there, and why they were hugging her. I’d like to think on some level it made sense and she knew, instinctively, that we were family, but I know with certainty, it is all clear, now. She stands at the timeline with God and He is explaining it all to her. She is surrounded by the angels and the saints, and her parents, and she is glowing and happy and joyously worshipping God – for eternity. The Holy Spirit has completely filled her so she is perfect once again, and in no pain, and with clarity of thought denied to her all these years.

Not gonna lie, even though I knew this day was coming on swift wings, and I was prepared for it with all the details taken care of, it hurts. It really does. I am a strong person and although I have been known to weep at TV commercials, I am usually the one helping everyone else grieve. I am allowing myself some time to fall apart. I am allowing myself to grieve, whenever and however it comes at me. It will lessen in time, I know. But right now, it is sharp and my heart aches. And I miss my mom already, even though we’ve been practicing this goodbye for so many long years. The pain of loss is still real. The other part of the equation is I am also relieved. And please don’t take that wrong. Mom is clear now. She can walk and not need her walker or wheelchair. She isn’t lost anymore. She is finally with her parents in a heavenly version of New Zealand. She is making her way to eternal glory through the mercy of God and His omnipotent forgiveness. God is good, and He has mom, now. I can rest in that.

Mom – I love you

Attachments

Miss Poca

Today was a hard day. Because it was an unexpected one. Today my son retrieved the ashes of his dog, Miss Poca. The ashes also came with a small plastic bag containing some of her hair and a clay plate of her paw print that we will color and bake (who knew they had these? Not me!). The decision to put Poca down was a difficult one. As a family, we wrestled with it for months and months. She died 1 month shy of 15 years old. For an English Springer, that is a very long life. It had gotten to the point where she could hardly walk. She panted in pain most of the day, when she was not sleeping. We had her on 2 pain medications, an anti-inflammatory, and some glucosamine/chondroitin vitamins. They were literally keeping her alive. When her meds were due to run out I called the vet for a refill. It is usually hours, or at the most a day, when they call and tell me the meds are ready. Well, they called and through some sort of shipping snafu, her meds would not be available for a couple of days. Let me tell you, those were long days. She moaned and cried. She hurt in any position she was in, and moving her was awful. We had to carry her outside to do her business and squatting made her cry and moan, because her hips were so bad. We learned during those two (turned into 3) days that she was truly a very ill dog. The medicines were masking how horribly sick she was. And it just killed me.

Andrew and Poca

Technically, Miss Poca belonged to our son. And they truly had a love affair. We got Pocahontas as a rescue when our son was 10. We had relocated to a different state, leaving behind all he had ever known, and with both brothers out of the house. So we thought his own dog would be perfect for him. When we finally met her in person, she took to him like nothing I had ever seen. She laid on his lap on the drive home, and they were inseparable. She had a pillow on his bed. They were best buddies. She filled a place in his heart that no one else has since, and I think it will always be hers. He knew, in his heart, that it was time for Poca. He saw her pain. He had to carry her here and there, and clean up after her. She no longer could get on or off his bed and had gotten used to sleeping on her bed in our room, because he’s been traveling for work so much. They spent some amazing last days together. Took some short road trips. He even took her to his fire station and had pictures with her on the engine he drives. He let her sleep on his lap as he drove. He took lots of photographs and treated her with bones and canned dog food the last couple of days. The end of their relationship tore up our entire family. And that was two weeks ago. When he walked in with her ashes today and told me, “Well mom, Poca is home again,” and showed me that little box and the cuts of her hair, I pretty much fell apart. He had to comfort me. And my emotional collapse came out of left field. I am the one who had called the vet and made the appointment, because I am the one who was with her the most and I saw her pain level grow each day. In my head, I know that it was an act of kindness. But my heart is beating me up. Badly. I am so glad I gave up wearing make-up years ago.

Mom with Kolbe

My mom has end-stage Alzheimer’s. We took our 2-year old Standard Poodle, Kolbe, to visit her not long ago. Mom resides in an amazing Assisted Living Home (ALH). With Covid and all the zany restrictions, we have not spent very much time together over the past year. She no longer knows who I am. Several years ago Mom and I had the hard conversation about what she wants at the end of her life, how she wants to die, and how she wants to be buried. She is currently on hospice care and there will be no interventions. We will allow her to pass away as her body gives up. And for burial, she wants to be interred with her husband, Frank, at the Arlington National Cemetery in CA. She wished to be cremated. And that brings me to my lesson to share today!

I have the option to take mom’s cremains back with me on a plane. I can actually bring them as carry-on and have her with me at my seat, like a puppy or laptop. It just sort of bothered me, even when we were making the arrangements. “Coming through, coming through, cremains on a dolly. Please step aside!” Ewww…who does that? Did you know human cremains weigh about 40 lbs? I did not. I’d never had a reason to even think about it. And I did not think I should check her through as luggage. So undignified for my mom. The other option is that she will be taken via military airplane, because she is a veteran’s widow, and transported to Arlington by the military. We would then have an interment ceremony. After today, experiencing the intense grief at holding that little tea tin full of Poca’s remains, and holding that little baggie of her hair, I cannot fathom having to hold my mom’s cremains. I cannot fathom having them in my home or in my car. It just does not jive for me. I have been crying off and on all day. I’ve gone to stand in my son’s bedroom doorway looking at Poca’s little box, bawling like a baby. I would literally fall apart if I had to do this for my mother. So today confirmed the arrangements for me, for my mom. Grief is a personal thing. It comes in so many ways, and can hit you at the oddest moments.

We have so many different sorts of attachments. Some people say they love their car. I’ve heard of people being buried with their cars. I saw the tail of a plane at an odd angle on a gravesite here recently. So many people fly here in Alaska because we have very few roads, so the plane thing I could understand. I’ve seen dogsleds on gravesites, too. But we connect to a variety of people, animals, and things during our life times and these attachments create a web around us. I found myself looking inward, curious as to why I was so hysterical about Poca’s remains. I was not a, nor am I a, dog mom. I think that term is absurd. I certainly owned her, because I had to sign for everything regarding her death. But more importantly, I was her companion, and she was mine. She was an integral part of our family, and of its dynamics. Our 2-year old puppy has not been himself since she’s been gone. He is mourning in his own way. I hope he snaps out of it soon.

And when I was pondering “attachments,” I thought of all the ones which are disordered and not good for us. There are people in our lives we probably should distance ourselves from. One question to ask yourself is, “Is this a life-giving relationship, or does it suck the life out of me?” We can apply that question to the pets we own. Do we have too many? Do we need a companion? I know people who have dogs that keep them outside, rarely interacting with them. Or they keep them in cages, separated from the family. That just seems odd to me. I’m the sort who lets my animals on the furniture and on my bed. They are a part of the dynamics of our family as well as its rhythm. We got a new wreath for our front door and it says, “Welcome! We hope you like dogs.” Because ours are a part of who we are as a family. We are very attached to our animals. You could say they are spoiled but I think they are borderline spoiled. Not all the way spoiled. Ha-Ha.

Do we cling to things that are not good for us, but have become habit? Are we attached to tell-a-vision “programs” that are sending disordered messages? Are we inured to them so much we don’t even notice? Have we allowed disorder into our lives through various forms of entertainment, that we don’t see the level of depravity or evil that is allowed into our homes? Just look at the “programming” offered these days. We discontinued Netflix. And now they have come out with more shows worse than the one about little girls. Cable is something we need to control. Streaming needs to be monitored and controlled. Music – there is so much to music that just the change of station or genre doesn’t even touch the myriad and immensity of information about music itself, let alone the lyrics. I could go on, but I won’t.

Attachments are something we need to re-evaluate from time to time. We need to really look and decide if this person, place, or thing is enhancing my life or stealing its joy. Every moment of every day we make decisions. Our decisions, which are made from the choices before us, decide which direction we travel. We can walk in righteousness or we can choose the other direction. Each decision is to choose a direction. Towards the light or towards the dark. Which is it?

I feel like my attachment to my dog was not disordered. Her death and her absence are just so very difficult to deal with. I keep listening for her, or looking for her, making sure I don’t step on her. I even try to find her scent and it is slowly being reduced to almost nothing. I know our dog scents her…their noses are so much more powerful than ours. And I know he misses her something fierce. We decided to jump into the pet arena again and are bringing home a little sister soon for our 2-year old. Same breeder, same parents, so it is a full sister, just a few litters apart. We are over the moon in love with her already, but it is still tempered with sadness over the loss of Poca. Our son will be leaving this week for a job and will be gone at least 4 months. So he will get over Poca through time and distance. We will be making room in our hearts for little Miss Magdalene Rose – Maggie. She won’t take the place Poca has in my heart, she will make her own place there. And in the dynamics and rhythm of our every-changing lives.

Miss Maggie Rose

And here we are…

Me and Mom
Me and Mom 2016

That photo above was taken the day my mom moved in with us, moving her from California and a senior center, into our home in Alaska. It was momentous, to say the least. Her Alzheimer’s had progressed so much so, that she could not care for herself, nor live alone. And because the situation was what it was, she was brought to live with me. It was the first time we had been under the same roof in more than 40 years. It was a rough adjustment, to be sure. Mom was so confused that she was living in my home, and not that I was living with her, in her home. That I was the homemaker and not her. That the kitchen was my domain, not hers. That I cooked the meals and cleaned the house, and did the laundry. She declined fairly rapidly and now that I look back on it, I think it was because she was so confused. So out of her element. And the arrangement grated on her. So she sunk inside herself. We had days where I could not get her into clothes. Days when she would sleep almost the entire day, and then was able to sleep the entire night. I was getting concerned. She was very angry and the situation was becoming untenable.

One of the smartest things I did, at that time, was I admitted I needed help. I could not continue to have her live with me and someone needed to step in. Someone needed to give her the care she would not allow me to give to her. I needed a strong intermediary. And there are absolutely some amazing people out there who know exactly how to do what I needed. Through the Alzheimer’s Resource Center here in Alaska, I was able to get the education I needed to know how to deal with my mom, some wonderful resources to get mom into the community, and also a place where she could live. And so, with a heavy heart, we moved mom into an Assisted Living Home. I know, deep in my bones, that God guided me to where He wanted mom to be. She is happy, she is well cared-for, and I don’t worry about her. Not one sleepless night. The staff is kind, the home is clean and so very sunny, and the owner deeply cares about all her clients. It was truly a blessing.

Mom is all smiles…

Mom found joy in being with people her own age. She attended the senior center programs. She painted. She laughed so much. And she made friends. It was so cute to see the two of these ladies above hold hands across their recliners as they watched TV together. It warmed my heart. And my mom is happy. I have only seen her frustrated and unhappy a couple of times these past few years. Overall, she is a happy person there. We visit every other week or so. At first, as she was declining more, it would make her sad to have us leave. The staff said she would talk about us, but when we visited, she sought a connection and did not seem to find it. She slowly wasn’t upset when we told her we had to leave. She was ready to get back to her day.

Mom has since fallen twice. Breaking a different hip each time. The first time, she came back and was so happy and easy to help recover. The second time, after the surgery, she languished for a couple of weeks in the hospital. She has never come back quite the same since. She has lost so much of herself. In her mind, she is not 91. Nowhere near. She told me the other day she has plans in place to re-visit her parents in New Zealand. She has no memory of ever being married, nor of having children. This last visit was hard for me. She used pronouns for me: she, her, that lady…not her daughter. She hasn’t known my name for awhile, although she would sometimes say it in passing, but not as it belonged to me. My visit this past week sort of undid me. And I chastised myself for my behavior. I kept talking about my dad, or her 2nd husband, Frank, or my brother. My children, my grandchildren. My home and my dog, who she just loves. None of it resonated with her. I showed her photos and she did not recognize herself in them. And I realized as I was driving down the highway, that it was a waste of time. She has lost those memories and I think I did it so she could feel a connection to me. Because even though I am almost 65, I still need my mom. In my head, sometimes I am still her little girl. Only now I can never be that for her. All I can be is a friendly stranger who comes by now and then. We can chat, but it has to be superficial. I cannot expect more out of her – it is not fair to her. Because when you try to make them remember, it only frustrates them, because their brain just isn’t connecting to memories. She forgot I had brought her some clothes and shoes, and that had only been minutes.

One of the best definitions I have seen that is perfect for Alzheimer’s

For my mom, this word describes her longing for New Zealand. She has lived in America far longer than she lived there, but the heart of her youth was spent among the green of New Zealand. It’s the place she felt the safest and most loved, and it was years before she was married to my dad; she was living at home, and living a pretty carefree, and very simple, life. She can no longer relate to her life now. She has no concept that she is 91 years old. Time holds nothing for her. I see it when she searches my face, and I know she is looking for something that will connect the two of us. She feels a kindred spirit with me, but has no idea why. And she just cannot make that connection. I saw it particularly this time, when her eyes changed and she stopped trying to figure me out. And I cried inside. Because I realized I would never have my mom back. Not ever.

1974

I shared this photo with mom. I had just graduated high school. Her comment was, “That’s a nice photo. Who are they?” And it made me sad because it was a pivotal moment in my life. I remember the day so clearly. And how we laughed and cried because I was growing up. LOL. I had plans to move out to attend college, and little did I know that I would never live under a united roof with my parents, again. I stayed with them when I was between roommates. I visited. But it was no longer my home.

New Year’s Day 2021

I have been blessed with the marriage of my dreams. Are we perfect? Heck no. Who is? But we are in love, even after 36 years together. My home is with my husband and wherever it is we live. And we have lived quite a few places! As I was growing into being a wife and mother, my mom and dad had divorced and both had remarried. Mom and Frank moved quite a lot and we did not see one another very often. Birthdays, holidays, events, and the occasional weekend together. We did not even talk that much. I would chat every few days with my stepdad and my mom would just yell “hi” in the background and tell him to keep talking to me. Ha-Ha. So not seeing my mom daily is not a new thing for me. I was busy raising and homeschooling our kids. We lived on farms and that was not exactly what my mom was used to, nor did she prefer it. They lived in senior, master-planned communities with golf courses. We lived in a lot of dirt. Ha-Ha. At first, I felt guilty when we moved her to the ALH because it’s about a half hour drive away. And in the beginning, every Sunday we saw her. But then “it” happened and the world shut down. Churches closed so we stopped driving into town to attend with our kids and grandkids. We live-streamed God. Whoever would have thought it???!!!

Junior Iditarod 2021

We got busy. And so the time in-between visits lengthened. And computers and media, FaceTime, all that just passed mom by. It confuses her to see you on a phone. Once or twice we tried with one of the worker’s iPads. She just did not connect. Because of restrictions inhumanely placed on senior centers, I can not enter the facility. I can stand, fully masked, in the storm door entry, with mom in a wheelchair, in the house. And that is how we communicate. She does not understand the face diaper thing, nor why we cannot enter and have a “proper conversation.” This last visit, she grew uncomfortable at the cold coming in (I totally agreed! It was all of 14 degrees outside, even if the sun was blazing away. I was cold, too) and so she did not want to talk long. I realized that my visits don’t affect her too much. I explained to the owner of the home that mom and I have not been particularly close and we did not see one another a lot prior to her Alzheimer’s, so not seeing her often probably works for us both.

When all is said and done, I miss my mom. I ache and there is not a thing anyone can do about it. But I cannot allow it to cloud either of our lives. She is happy. Her attitude is good. She is not in pain. And she enjoys her days. I cannot ask for more for my mom. I can’t take this disease away. There is no cure. And I have chosen to not think about it. Perhaps tomorrow I may delve into all of this miasma that is Alzheimer’s disease and how devastating the affect is on everyone around the person who has it. Today? Well, today I am trying a new barley beef soup recipe, and I have some garlic bread to have with it, because my husband has been gone for a week and it’s cold and I wanted to warm him up a little bit, and to welcome him home. Mom? I’ll check on her and perhaps visit her weekly, but I am not going to worry. It adds nothing to my day and it does not change a thing. I love the woman who was my mom and I miss her. That is never changing.

April 7, 2021

I love you, mom. I am sad. I am mad. But I am always your loving daughter. Always.

“…and your name among the angels.”

Today is a hard day. A very dear friend of mine is being buried today. He should not be. He was still young. He retired after 20+ years as a peace officer. He has 11 children and 2 grandchildren. His youngest child is 8 years old. We have know him for over 20 years, as he was just starting the academy when we met him. I am in shock. I find it so hard to believe this man, who was larger than life, is gone. He was funny. He was so well informed. He told the most amazing stories. We laughed and laughed with him. We camped with them. We went hunting. We ran our English Springers together. We traveled up and down California with our kids and dogs crammed into our SUVs. We shared the same wedding anniversary. We attended Church together. We broke bread countless times together. We prayed together. He and his wife honored us when they asked us to be godparents to lucky #7.

Chris and Pam

There are so many wonderful stories I could share with you. So much fun designing ideas for the yard and the house. He was so creative and he would come up with these zany ideas. He’d rush out and get all the stuff for it, start it, and say, “That’s gonna look great!” and he’d have satisfied his creativity! LOL! Drove me nuts. One day I came over and he yells, “Jan – Jan, you have to come look at the bathroom! It’s DONE!” He was so proud! LOL. I just hugged him and we both laughed. It looked, of course, amazing.

One time we went dove hunting and Chris decided to make “chicken nuggets” out of the doves. He was an amazing cook. So he’s cooking these little doves and placing them on a platter on the picnic table. We adults were sitting around watching, having an adult beverage, and chatting. The kids kept running through the camp and each time, they’d grab a “nugget.” Chris couldn’t figure out where they were all going, because each time he’d turn around to place more completed nuggets on the table, the platter would be empty. Then he yells at the kids, “Those are the most expensive nuggets you will ever eat. Slow down!” Then he goes on to give us calculations of all the costs – hunting license, guns, ammo, gas to get there, hunting dogs and all their gear, camping gear costs, our SUVs and tents, etc, etc, etc. He surmised that driving through McDonald’s would have been far more cost effective, even with all those kids to feed – his and ours. LOL. He was so fun. We have some hilarious memories of hunting and running our dogs. Our eldest son had two funny episodes where in one, he shot the backside off a pheasant. So funny. Another one where he asked if this snake was poisonous and before Chris could finish telling him it was a harmless king snake, it was blown to bits. My son still recalls those times with fondness.

Pam and Chris

Chris taught our youngest son to drive a stick shift in his old army jeep. My son treasures that memory. He said Chris was so patient – each time he’d stall out, he would just explain what happened, and they’d start again. He never got mad, but would laugh. Our son and godson learned together and that was so cool.

We homeschooled our kids and we spent many an evening over long dinners and barbecues, discussing curriculum, our faith, and what we were doing with all these children the Lord blessed us with. He was a strong Catholic and would not waiver one iota from his faith. He was one of the most honest men I have known. When Chris told you something, you could take it to the bank. I trusted him with my life, and the life of my children. If I was in danger and my husband was not around, I could call Chris and he’d be there in a minute. He was one of the good guys. He and Pam had an amazing life together, accomplishing more than most couples do. Chris had a small plane and they would offer to fly us wherever we wanted to go. My kids took him up on it, but I am a big chicken. I do not like to fly, let alone in a little plane. I trusted Chris as a pilot, implicitly, but my unease is the whole height thing. I even hate driving up into mountains (I know – irony, since I live in amongst them here in Alaska). Chris and Pam were going to come up this summer and he wanted to see Alaska by air. Another dear friend, who was a pilot, relocated to Idaho last summer. As I was helping them pack, I saw stacks of flight maps and books on flying in Alaska. I immediately thought of Chris. I asked if I could take them for my friend and they gave me the entire box. One of the biggest regrets I have in life is that box is still in my garage. I had kept it because they were coming up and I was just going to give them to him. And now he will never see them. And it breaks my heart when I walk into the garage and see those books and maps. Don’t put things off. You simply never know what tomorrow will hold.

The Family

The family will never be the same. Chris has left a gigantic hole in their hearts. It is hitting me like a ton of bricks and we were just friends. I cannot imagine what they are going through. I would not want to be in their shoes. But Chris planted strong seeds in his children, imbuing them with character and a love for family, and for others. They are good people because their father was present and he cared and he shared his thoughts, his morals, and his faith with each of them. It will be hard, but their mom is a resilient woman, one of the strongest ones I know, and she will carry on their legacy for Chris. She has a beautiful heart and her kids and grandkids will know it even more in the days and years ahead.

I was supposed to fly down there for the funeral today. And honestly, I just could not do it. I don’t do well at funerals. I have been known to pass out and actually throw up. I spent the funeral of my husband’s grandfather laying on a pew in the Church hall, throwing up in a trash can. My mother-in-law was not happy with me. My sons were the altar boys. My husband served on the altar. And I was not able to do it. I attended the burial, where I bawled like a baby, because I loved that man. And I was completely fine by the reception. But for Chris, I just could not walk into that Church and see him like that. I feel like I am letting down my friend, but my heart is honestly broken. A total blessing is that Pam and most of the kids are coming up here this summer, just like we had talked about, to get some stress relief, change of scenery, and to visit one of God’s greatest creations – Alaska. The chaos of the kids will accompany Pam; it’s a part of being a mother to 11 kids and grandma to 2 (and counting). But I think the act of getting away will be good for them – and for us. She and I can sit and gab for hours. The last time she and I went to lunch, just the two of us, we sat and gabbed for over 5 hours. My son actually called me and asked if I was coming home for dinner. Ha-Ha-Ha, how the tables have turned!

Me and Pam

And today I am really a wreck. Crying off and on, thinking of the steps Pam and the kids are walking right now. Feeling like I should be there and I am not. My heart breaking for the loss of a really good man, and dear friend of more than two decades. I think he will leave a hole in my heart forever. Chris occupied a special place in the hearts of all who knew him, most especially his wife and children.

In the eastern Church, we like to say, “May your memory be eternal, and your name among the angels.” It is such a beautiful tradition. It comes from the fact that in pre-Christian, Old Testament times, the Jewish people would shun those who had done wrong. They would remove their names from histories and landmarks. The person would be removed from memory. And in contrast, the early Christian communities would celebrate the life of those who had passed away and were a part of their community. They would invoke passages from the Psalms and the promises of Christ. And one tradition is that they believed the angels themselves would whisper the name of the loved one around the throne of God, and that their memory would never fade. And that is what I wish for my friend – that his memory will stay alive and his name be on the tongues of the angels, themselves. So Chris, may your memory be eternal and your name among the angels. God speed, my friend. You are loved and you are missed.

Chris telling me another hilarious story!!

My head hurts…

I recall life before computers, before the internet, before every single person carried a phone, 24/7. I recall life before blue light dangers. I recall life before automated everything. Who writes checks anymore? Who carries cash? Very, very few of us. I also recall life before the onslaught of information. The information highway. My head hurts.

Today I was busy putting away some staples in my pantry. I am obsessed with glass. I slowly got rid of plastic and teflon from my life. Now I open containers and dump everything into glass jars. You know, oats and chicken stock mix (organic of course! LOL!), and seasonings, and cereals. Everything from yeast to ground flour, to my soaked and dehydrated grains, all reside in glass containers. During our last 5-point-something earthquake, nothing moved. Whew. But I like the idea of uniform storage and being organized. A friend said I am getting a little obsessed with organizing everything. But in this world of noise and chaos and way too much information, being able to control something (like my pantry) gives me peace. Solace. Quiet. Neat = quiet in my book. So I am obsessing about neat because I can control neat. Kinda.

Our new stove

We are making some changes around here. We chose to remove our natural gas, built-in, fireplace and go with a wood stove. A free-standing wood stove. We are very excited. But you know how it is, there are ideas and then there is reality. We have to make that transition happen. My head hurts. Again. I am learning more than I ever wanted to know, nor thought I needed to know, about wood stoves. The one thing I did get that both of us agreed upon, was the enamel was brown and shiny, and not flat black. I liked the look of the brown. However, we also have to gouge a big hole in our living room wall, and remove our gas insert. Then we have to create an elevated surround, and then we get to have the stove installed. Installers just install. They don’t do “bricks and sticks,” which is a term I just learned. They just hook it all up. In other words, we get to use the hammers and yank out the walls and then we get to create a stone fireplace surround for this stove to sit in. Once it is how we want it, the installers install. That is all. So now, we get to research fire-safe surrounds, designs, materials we need, and how much time this will take, let alone cost. Sigh. It is never simple. All we want is simple and quiet and closer to the earth.

We have this….
We want this….

So now starts the transformation of our home from typical tract house in Alaska, to an Alaskan home. Removing the sort of details that make no sense in the land of snow, mud, and sunshine. Like what? White carpeting is first on my list. Who does that? And our new, independent of the gas company, wood stove. It can heat the whole house – easily. And I am excited to make the house a little more country. A little less mainstream or civilized. It is amazing to me how much is involved in detaching from the world.

Dream greenhouse idea…

As soon as this ridiculous amount of snow melts, it is on to the greenhouse. I have been struck so hard with the fact that we have roughly 90 days to grow a year’s worth of vegetables to store. And here in Alaska, pretty much everyone has a greenhouse. WIth -20 degrees on St. Patrick’s Day, and at least 6 feet of snow firmly sitting on top of everything, Spring is pretty elusive. I have discovered we have to meticulously plan gardens. Organize seeds. Prepare a place to grow them indoors, to later transplant to a protected greenhouse, and then into raised beds. It is a lot of work and it is done mostly while snow is still on the ground. I now even have a Garden Journal. It is so pretty and I am already filling out parts of it. The plans part. The reality part comes as the season progresses. And I know we will learn a lot. We are surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, who also have a lot more knowledge of how to do all of this, so that makes me very happy. I have experts all over the place. I took a “bread braids” class last night, while hubby attended “Layers 101” about chickens! LOL. Who would have thought??

Ideas of how to self-sustain on 1 acre of land.

We would like to be self-sustaining, and less connected. Up here, we are at the literal end of the supply chain from the lower 48 states. And with Canada having its temper-tantrums and closing ports and making truck shipping just ugly, having empty shelves at the grocery store is no joke. So we are re-thinking how we use our yard and what we do with our space. Being simple is so complex. There are so many moving parts. My head hurts. Still. This old California girl is learning how to be an Alaskan. It means throwing off so many things; leaving ideas and ways of living behind, and adopting new and different ideas. I mean, I now have 25 pound tubs of grains in my pantry. I have a dehydrator and grinding mill on my kitchen counters. I make my breads from, quite literally, scratch. I am learning about lecithin and gluten and how to remove the acids from grains so they are more bio-available. I am learning about organic. That is a master’s degree in and of itself! I learned about using vinegar with the “mother.” Who knew?

Kolbe and his hedgehog…with no stuffing left…so cute

When the chaos and onslaught of information gets to me, I try and pet my dog, or have a cup of “Dandy Blend” – because amongst all these things, we gave up coffee and sugar and soda. Sigh. LOL. Dandy Blend is a tasty alternative to coffee and it’s working for me. I also use organic honey and oat milk in it. Oat milk! Some days I don’t recognize myself. LOL. My cupboard now contains boxes and boxes of herbal teas in all flavors. I am no longer using milk. I am shying away from anything in a package or a box. I shop mostly the outside of the store, if I even shop at the store. We try to source local for all our needs, which can be a challenge. Picking up my farm co-op order in freezing, blowing snow, meeting at the local grocery store parking lot for the hand-off! LOL! Never in a million years did I think I would get my meat from the farmer out the back of a truck. Fresh eggs. Carrots right out of the ground. Yet, here I am!! I’m trying to be a better me; a me who knows nutritionally which thing to place on my plate and which to avoid. It is all about a lot of habits that need undoing, a lot of relearning that needs to happen, and a lot of deep breaths. Because truly, all this information does create its own headache. It really does. Today, the sun is bright and the snow is sparkling (because it is so cold) and I am overwhelmed. I had the beginnings of a migraine last night at the bread class, and it is trying to sneak itself back in my life today as I made spaghetti sauce from scratch and baked a loaf of bread. So I am going to be kind to myself, watch an episode of Time Team on Prime, have a hot cup of Madagascar Vanilla tea, and maybe even take a nap. That’s what I think of all the information knocking on the door of my brain. There is always tomorrow.

Cacophony – noise – chaos

My dad is 94 years old. He has minor dementia. Whenever we speak, it is 90% about him. Which is normal for him. We did not speak for about 2 years until recently, when my brother gave him my phone number (thanks oh so much). We have had major disagreements in our relationship and my world spins much smoother when he is not poking his head into it. He has a habit of disrupting my life. I have now had three conversations with him since our non-speaking timeframe and I realized today I have not missed it much. That is so horrible to say, I know. But my father is an old narcissist and he uses it well. He loves to say little things to ensure he has put me in my place. He will always follow it up with, “But you know I love you.” Ha. Typical gaslighting. His sort of love can destroy a person. And he almost succeeded with me. I have since learned that although we have loved ones who are a major part of our lives, like parents, we do not have to grant them real estate in our heads or let them take up too much of our time. Both are precious and we only get one try at this thing called life.

My dad doesn’t just talk, he basically lectures. He thinks he’s being kind to people, but he is pretty condescending. He thinks he’s being so witty when he tears someone to pieces with cruel words, and follows it up with kind words. Today his focus was on why I don’t publish or write professionally. I have had this blog since 2012; I’ve sent him links in the past, but he has never bothered to read them. I think technology has passed him by. His days are now filled with jigsaw puzzles and Bingo. To me, this is enough. I get joy out of making new friends through this medium and by sharing thoughts with people. I don’t need to be paid. He thinks I am wasting my intellect being at home. But he has no idea what I have accomplished or the places I have been, nor the people I have interacted with, because he was too busy doing his thing and not inquiring about my life. Today he had no idea I had 3 grown sons. No idea. That is the dementia talking; I know. But it is also how he has treated those of us in his life in the past. Today, I did not allow him the space in my head, nor the words to worm their way into my heart to hurt me. I listened to his words, and let them flow…sort of like water off a duck’s back.

The one issue that did make me think was his comments about why I was not writing at all. And I realized that I had nothing of import to share. Nothing to add to the conversation in this crazy world. If we all opine in the public square, it becomes a cacophony of sound. It adds to the chaos. It becomes nothing more than noise. And although I have strong opinions about what is going on in our country and world ( for example: no vax for me; no mask for me; it’s the flu; the news lies 24/7; open up the marketplace and get people back to work; pretty much everything I was taught was part of a greater narrative that did not have my best interest in mind; God wins. Period.) I don’t think that long diatribes add to the cure. The cure? In my opinion? Turn off the TV. Return to quiet family times. Insulate yourself from the greater world. Pray – a lot. Read your Bible. Do penance on behalf of this world. Celebrate this 40-day opportunity to re-align yourself with God. It’s Lent. Live it. And stop believing all you hear is truth. Because it is not. Associate with good people. The people you hang out with have a far greater affect on you than you realize. Attend more services at Church. Stations of the Cross, the Rosary. Read religious works. Start a prayer notebook to track who you pray for and look back and see God in action! Start a 40-day gratitude journal. Be positive. About all of this.

My youngest son has been an only child since our middle son left for college. Since he was about 9 years old, he has been blessed to be home with just me and his dad. There are choices he makes that I disagree with, and I know if I try to discuss it with him, it is just noise. Blah-blah-blah. Good old mom, blathering on again about this or that. And I know my opinion gets lost in the words and it just does no good. He has always been one of those kids who has the ability to just turn off. He did it as an infant, toddler, and during his school years. He goes somewhere inside himself and stays there until he feels it is appropriate to re-engage. It’s a protective mechanism he was born with. And so I have learned that lectures get me nowhere with him. And I was thinking how much the rest of the world needs to be able to just turn off all these externals. So much information, but so little intelligent thought. And I know my little blog is just going to add to the noise. My protective mechanism is to just hide. I left the public square in so many ways, because I learned it was like beating my head against the wall. Very little satisfaction; a lot of pain.

And so my conclusion for this post is that I did say a lot here, to tell you I did not have a lot to say. Oh the irony!! LOL! But more importantly, I am trying to share why too many words, too much information, too much falsity in the public square only makes all these things assailing us all, much much worse. Practice detachment from things and people and situations. Practice silence. Practice prayer. And remember, regardless of the pain of this journey we are all on, in the end, God wins. Always. Forever. Period.