“…eternal joy to the soul.”

My heart is full.

We just returned from a glorious five-day journey down to Valdez, Alaska. My heart is so full. There were so many firsts on this trip. First of all, it was a 6.5 hour drive. We split the initial drive into two parts and spent the night halfway, in an area called Tolsono. It was simply gorgeous. It rained most of the time, but between the raindrops the mosquitos were out in full force and we were all so grateful we were staying just one night!! The showers were amazing, but the mosquitos sort of killed the joy. LOL.

Tolsono Campsite View

This campsite is almost stereotypical of what you would expect when camping in Alaska. And it is everything I had wanted to experience. What I did not take into account is that to the right of this photo is a stagnant area of water. Kinda greenish. Yeah. Mosquito hatchery in full swing. LOL. But even saying that, I would return. I would plan around mosquito season and also take lots and lots of netting and bug spray. The sound of the stream going by our camper was so cathartic. It was mesmerizing and I fell deeply asleep in no time at all. We chose to forgo breakfast and even coffee, because of the bugs. We took off towards Glenallen, which was a short hop, to gas up and get some breakfast. We ate on the road…

Bridal Veil Falls Outside Valdez, with my grandson.

Our first big stop was outside Valdez at Bridal Veil Falls. They were magnificent. My grandson and I walked around to try and get a good view of them. It was pouring rain but it just didn’t matter. The sound of the falls was overpowering and the beauty was just stunning. In person, what a magnificent stop!!

We drove through to Valdez and it was full of rain and curves and so much to see. The roads are typically Alaskan….bumps and potholes…but the views make up for it! Valdez is on the coast and is a fishing town, as well as where the Alaskan Pipeline ends. We saw so many fishing vessels, as well as lots of oil tankers. The tide is pretty stark – when it is in it is so flush with water, but when it is out, there are miles of mud. It was pretty incredible. We could see distant glaciers, and even drove past one that we took the time to drive to on a different day. Worthington Glacier. Amazing.

One of the many piers in Valdez

We happened upon a festival that we had no idea was occurring the same weekend. We traversed some booths and had some good food. It was still raining like mad, so we chose to visit the local museum. It was filled with dioramas of the big earthquake and tsunami that flattened Valdez and it was not the best thing my grandkids wanted to see, so we ventured out into the rain and chose to go to the Fish Hatchery across the bay. Oh my goodness. Literally the highlight of our trip!!

Valdez Hatchery

This is a view of the Hatchery, on the right, as we approached along the highway. The clouds settling into the mountains made this view just incredible. And yes, it was still raining!! LOL.

I was so imbued with nature. It was surreal. Being raised in Southern California, where nature is held at bay and contained behind fences and cement pools and glass enclosures, this day was monumental for me. For all of us, really. It was so cool that we all experienced this first together. And I’m going to just post a series of photos. And even though I think they are pretty good, the sights and sounds just cannot be fully conveyed in a photograph!

Sea Lions gorging themselves on salmon trying to spawn upstream. Valdez, Alaska
Brown bears gorging on spawning salmon. Valdez, Alaska
Sea Lions-Salmon-Gulls
Lone Gull taking a rest…
Herd of female sea lions barking out orders for the males hunting…
Hubby and I with sea lions behind us.

I cannot fully express how wonderful this experience was. It was so loud – the sea lions barking at each other and all the gulls squawking at each other…it was a cacophony of the sounds of nature. Right in front of us. Life and death. Right in our faces. Incredible. The brown bears were along the roadside as we left the hatchery and the salmon ladders. The salmon spawn all over the coastline in Valdez. And when the tides were in, it was a feeding frenzy for all the wildlife. It rained the entire time we were there, but it was so incredible, we simply ignored the weather.

Valdez Harbor, Alaska

I wish that everyone would have an opportunity to ignore media. To stop rushing here and there. To sleep in the middle of nature, rain and all. To take in the glory that is the creation of God. We are so blessed to live here. And this weekend, we experienced so much more than what I have shared here. I actually went into a shale-lined, water-filled dark cave that was created in a rush to create a faster access from McCarthy and the Kennicott Mine to the sea and the ships that could take the copper. It was blown into the side of the mountain. The back side of the cave was where they gave up creating a train tunnel. I do not do caves. LOL. But my kids encouraged me, held my hand, and my husband was by my side the entire time. I overcame my fear and made it out the other side!! We climbed up to a glacier. We went on a tour of the hydro-electric plant. The kids went gold-panning. We walked up to and touched the Alaskan Pipeline. We drove through hours and hours of God’s country, displaying all its glory. We saw fireweed blooming, eagles soaring, and incredible mountains. I just pray that other people can be blessed to experience this amazing place called Alaska.

The Cave
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“…something good out of the storms…”

 

I love when the sun is blazing through your windows and it feels so great. The plants perk up, I perk up, the dog and cat look for spots in the sunshine to lay down. It makes the energy surge and I get lots of things checked off my list!! And then I look outside and see them. Black, black, black clouds. And there goes the sunshine. I have to turn the lights on during the day – it gets that dark. The dog and cat are hanging in there, and they are not moving, hoping the sun will return. Me, I know the predicted rain is about to fall.

In a nutshell, that is living with an Alzheimer’s patient, as their caregiver. Most of the time, my sunshine is our goodnight hugs and kisses. They are the best, and for now, that is when I see the mom I have always known. She peeks out as she lays her head down for sleep, clutching the comforter, as she sighs in joy over her big bed.

But moment to moment, we adjust in case the sun will really shine. We are learning, as a family, how to adjust to these moments that make us have to “turn the lights on during the day,” so to speak. And we also are learning to revel in those bright moments. Because this is a disease. I have to keep reminding myself. Always talking to myself inside my head. Because if I don’t do that, I get caught up in those big, black rain clouds. I could go on and on in using these weather terms, but truly, it resonated with me today.

My life will never “go back to normal.” None of our lives are really “normal” because “normal” keeps changing all the time. What is your normal will not be mine. And the normal I once had is gone. I am making our new normal. We constantly adjust to what comes at us. When you are a caregiver, I am learning that what we expect for our day to be changes moment to moment. Can’t lament the fact that the laundry doesn’t get done or that dinner we planned gets scrapped. We go from minute to minute. And I look for those smiles.

As I sit here, typing my thoughts, I look at my mom, trying to watch the morning TV shows. She is so confused. She does not understand most commercials, let alone a story line. Old movies, I thought, would please her. But there is not enough action or noise to keep her attention. Quite often she just stares at the view outside. Everyday she looks at the backyard and comments on the beauty. She loved seeing a wild moose walk across the road while we were driving, although she has forgotten it today. She loves looking at clouds and is always telling us about her grandfather, and how he had her lay on the ground and create shapes out of them. She loves to eat, although she insists she is never hungry. That may well be, but she is eating three full meals each day! And she always cleans her plate! I haven’t repeated a meal since she has been here, but I don’t think she would know if I did. And it makes me sad. Seeing the decline each and every day, gain its ground in her mind. So I try to not react to the moment, but remember the disease. It is a horrible disease, as it steals our loved ones. So much is ahead of us, and I know it’s gonna rain buckets before the journey is over. But I also know the Lord promised He would not give us more than we can handle, and He promised there would always be sunshine following the rain.

“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13

“…but a kind word cheers it up.”

Boy, did this speak to me today. It was raining this morning. Dismal. Gray. Yucky sort of dark morning. A coffee morning, for sure. And I know that Spring has supposedly arrived. We laugh up here because there are MOUNDS of snow all over town, which probably won’t melt down until June or July. There is a mound on the side of an old firehouse, just down the street from me. Spring. Ha! It is still too cold to plant your starters or flowers. Some people have braved hanging baskets already. Not me. We are moving in a few weeks, so I am waiting to see what gorgeous perennials pop up in my yard. I am told there is a rose hedge and daffodils, and a few tulips. Cannot wait to see that. But today is gloomy. They say you need to get through the rain, to have the sunshine. “May showers bring June flowers”?? Ha-Ha.

And as I sat and drank my coffee in the dripping-rain-sounding, very gray and dismal morning, I turned on the TV. Big. Mistake. I have been consciously keeping it off. And today I dove back in. Stupid me. I changed what I watch, considerably. I watch mostly the Hallmark channel, or specific shows I record. And I recently began a series on DVD my son got me hooked on, but that we watch together (Ok, we binge-watch it!). But for the most part, the TV is off during the day. I like it that way. Over the past year, I also changed where I get my news. I switched it to an all-news channel that has no pundits who try to tell me what I just heard, or opine and/or yell at viewers. I am tired of the vitriol. The channel I watch reports from all over the world and in under 1 hour, I am up-to-date. And in that 1-hour today, the darkness crept in. A lot of it.

“The woman named Folly is brash. She is ignorant and doesn’t know it….she calls out to men going by, “Come in with me,” she says….But little do they know that the dead are there. Her guests are in the depths of the grave.” Proverbs 9:13-18

And I realized that by watching and listening to all this horrific news, because that is the majority of it, I was allowing the darkness to have a hold over me. I was depressed and sad. So I left the room and dove back into the Proverbs. And the above quote is what struck me. Hard. And then I remembered what St. Porphyrios said at the top of this post: “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.”

As Rick Mallory, the photographer and blogger captured in the above photograph, Spring is a mixture of snow, rain, and burgeoning flowers. They are trying to erupt from their winter slumber, reaching towards the elusive sunshine. And that is an apt description for us all. We need to be constantly reaching for the light, to dispel the darkness. And I am desperately clinging, some days more than others, to the promises of my faith; the light in my life. And this light I hold within often struggles with the images and sounds of this world, which tries to drag us down. As a social experiment, I dismissed most newsfeed from my life. I took news apps and social media apps off of my iPhone. (I did keep the Angry Birds and Bejeweled games. My grandkids love playing Angry Birds with me on my phone). I changed up my wallpapers and now have spring flowers all over my laptop and iPhone, both, on all screens. I dismissed notifications from my life. I get text messages and notices of emails, but other than that, my phone is a phone. (What a concept, huh???). The freedom has helped my electronics operate a lot more efficiently (Facebook kills battery life, as do lots of platforms. Now they are gone, my phone can easily last 24 hours..unless I am at those Birds or Jewels!!). And the result? My happiness level got increasingly better. I was suffering from fewer sleepless nights. I was stressing far less. Do I advocate the ostrich method of burying your head in the sand? I don’t. Part of learning from scripture is to take what we have learned and directly apply it to our lives. Proverbs exhorts us to be present in the marketplace and to be involved. So I intend to keep staying current, but I think saturating yourself in it, day in and day out, takes a toll on your psyche and soul. I opted out and when I dipped my toe back into the media water, I immediately felt a difference.

So I think I will stay out of that mess. For now. Maybe forever. I much prefer the walk pictured above, which is 10 miles from my front door. I much prefer hearing the water waft past me, the eagles who fly above, and the salmon spawning, to media and newsfeed chaos. Life is so short. We never walk this way again. I continue to pray for the country, to listen when necessary, but focus on my walk with God, and my husband, and my family. If you can unplug, I highly recommend it. I recall that when I was a teenager, my dad would hand me a dime when I went out with my friends, to ensure I could call home if I needed to. On a pay phone. No cell phones. I didn’t talk to people 24/7, with tweeting my every move or logging into a social platform all day long. I could go weeks without seeing friends and we were still friends! (Imagine that!). Friends I still have 40-or more years later. We invested quality time developing relationships, in person, not online. We got news when we got news…maybe nightly at the dinner hour? Radio in the car? But not like it is now. Summer is coming and I cannot wait to be outdoors. I will have my essential oil recipe for mosquitos (which works so well!!), my Kindle will be charged, and I will be ready to accompany my husband as he chases those salmon, at whichever river he chooses to conquer. And as I got up from this screen to let the dog outside, I saw that the sun had raised her head high above the sky, dispelling the darkness. What a joy seeing that was! I wish for you some of the same.

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25