Sunday, April 29, 2012

City after dark

I took a impromptu trip into the city (Chicago) last night with The Kid to work on my low-light photography.  Here's a look at some of the better shots:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Round Two?

Some of you out there are probably going to want to throttle me for this... particularly my family and close friends. But hear me out first.

Alaska.  Going back?  Most likely...

I came home due to my severe case of homesickness, in a nutshell.  It's really great being back here, with the ones I love, in the safety of what I know... but perhaps I had a lapse of reason in returning so soon.  I mean, wasn't part of the whole goal in this trip to go and break out of my comfort zone and experience life in a much different way instead of running back to the safety of what I knew? This was one of my own personal expectations in going... and I failed at it miserably.  I feel like I didn't give it the real chance it deserved.

Everyone has been amazingly supportive of me coming back... almost overly so.  But I've been kicking myself in the ass as much as possible for making that move.  I don't regret going.  What I do regret is letting my moment of weakness get the better of me and giving up on something I planned, and planned, and planned for. I'm stronger than that... but you sure wouldn't know it by my actions in the last week or so.  I know that we are our own worst critic, and I'm completely putting myself through the ringer for this choice.

If not for the cost of flying back, I would go...

But someone seems to be looking out for me!  I have been given a very generous offer of accrued airline miles to return to Alaska, at no cost.  To go back to the family in Fairbanks that I left in haste.  To finish up the time I was supposed to spend with them, and to continue on to the location in Homer.  To essentially pick up where I left off.  I've been given a second chance at this.

And I think I'm going to try again.

Although I've decided not to return right away, but instead wait until the end-ish of May.  That way I can be around for the annual dance recital that I never miss, watch the kid's performances, help out where I can be of assistance, and take photos.   And I won't be back in Alaska for as long this time around... possibly making this whole thing more bearable again. 

Okay - here's your chance for throttling... ridicule... it's all good.  Just keep it in good nature and in fun, and I'm totally good with it.  :)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Learned truths, as I've read them...

"In the end, I've come to believe in something I call the 'Physics of the Quest.' A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of quest physics goes something like this: 

If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to bitter old resentments), and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you. 

I can't help but believe it, given my experience."

from "Eat, Pray, Love"  - Elizabeth Gilbert

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wussed Out

I tried. I really did.

But still, I'm not too ashamed to say that my homesickness has gotten the better of me.  I'm on my way back.  Maybe I didn't give this all enough time, or maybe I did... either way, I'm not at all comfortable.  Not at all happy.  Alone, even when I'm not alone.  I haven't been through this level of depressed in a very, very long time. 

Don't get me wrong - the scenery, at the very least, here in Alaska is nothing short of amazing.   But I find it far less appealing when there's no one here to share it with.

I miss Aaron something fierce, and miss not being around Sierra and both sets of parents.  I don't like that the few of my close friends aren't accessible.  I certainly like a degree of isolation... but I've come to realize that I prefer it on my own terms instead not having a choice.   I think maybe if I wasn't attached to anyone, or if I were single, this loneliness wouldn't be such an issue. 

I know now.  I know that I can't do these longer solo things without repercussions.  I know now that I should stick to my multi-day solo adventures instead of the prospect of multi-month excursions.  For the longer journeys, I at least need Aaron with me... for that's where I find true enjoyment in it.  I know now.

My regret in this trip isn't going... the travel, for what it was, has been great.  My only regret that I've wasted the money.  But a learning experience is a learning experience... regardless how costly.  Once home, it's back to find work that will keep me happy (unlike my last job).  Somewhere that I want to go every day.  Somewhere where I can belong.

All that aside, I spent time with a really nice family these last few days:

Cheryl and Bill Wood and all 5 of their children are great.  Their home and their life is chaotic, but they seem to be really great at managing and working through everything that goes on during the day at Dogwood Gardens.  Bill works in construction.  He's very much into his greenhouse and his dogs and mushing.  Cheryl is a stay-at-home mom who home-schools 4 out of 5 of their children. She loves to cook/bake - and she's VERY good at it.  Their oldest son, Denzel, is 16 and a sophomore in a Fairbanks public high-school.  He is into painting/drawing.  Kiana, newly 15, is an aspiring CNA.  After she graduates and gets her degree, she wants to work in the Philippines.  The three youngest children were adopted and have been living within the Wood household since last fall.  They are biological siblings that are from the Philippines.  The oldest, Mac (pronounced Moc) is 9.  He's a very smart young man, and quick to pick up on information and quite the conversationalist.   The middle boy is Luis, who is 7.  He is a special-needs child who was born with cerebral palsy.  However, despite his issues, he's always got a smile on his face and a very uplifting personality.  The youngest is Angel, who is 5.  She has so much energy, and is quite competitive for everything.  Cheryl's biggest challenge with Angel is to channel all that energy into something positive.  Some days it seems to be more of a challenge than others.

The family is into everything homegrown, they take advantage of reusing everything possible, and are very "green."  They compost vegetable waste by giving it to their 5 chickens/2 ducks, give any meat scraps to the sled dogs, and they burn most paper/cardboard in their wood-burning stoves.  They don't seem to throw away much in to the trash, and rarely use anything disposable.  They also buy in bulk, which saves them a ton of money... and with 5 kids, it makes sense.  We're talking about 2.5 gallons of peanut butter at a time, 5 gallon buckets of dish soap, etc.  Their operation is admirable - and if nothing else, I'd like to take some of their practice home with me.  We don't generate much trash, but every little bit helps.

Despite this family's awesomeness, I didn't feel comfortable being there.  Have you ever been in a house or room full of people, and still feel like you didn't belong?  Yeah.  That was me.  I felt like I was intruding even though I was an invited guest.  So that, on top of the homesickness... all that is what is bringing me back.

I am very thankful for the opportunity to try this... super thankful for the support at home particularly.  I truly hope I am not disappointing anyone, but after much consideration, sleeplessness, tears, everything... the only time I finally felt okay is when I knew I was coming home.  Call it epic fail or lesson learned... either way, I learned a lot about a lot, and I'll do better next time. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Could feel like home...

Never have I been in love with any single place than with everything I've seen today.


Not the southwest Colorado area, not northwestern Montana, nor anywhere else that I have claimed to love in the past. Those places were simply miniscule high-school crushes in comparison to where I've been, and what I've seen and experienced today.

I've heard so many stories in the last couple of days... people that were born and raised here, moved away, only to return. People who moved or spent a significant amount of time here and then returned to where they once came from... only to return again on a permanent basis. People who have moved, and have not returned... and are now kicking themselves in the ass for doing so.

I've only been here 3 days, and I am quite certain that I will live here someday. I feel more comfortable, more at peace and at ease, all the while exhilarated than anywhere I've ever lived or traveled in my short little lifetime (insert “I've been everywhere, man, I've been everywhere”). It's something cant can't be ignored – or shouldn't be.

Alaska really IS nature on steroids – and I'm addicted.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Anchorage Wandering

Yesterday was my first full day in Anchorage.  It didn't take me long at all to get familiar with the downtown area - it really is ridiculously easy to navigate.  Now, if I dare to venture outside of the downtown area... that might be a different story.  For now, I'm still plenty amused where I am.  Not only with the touristy shops and such now waking up from their winter hibernation, but also with the never-ending scenery.  I can't tire of it.  Yeah, sure... I've only been here a little over a day... but still - wow!  That one little word sums it all up.

I got up really early yesterday morning - still not accustomed to the time difference.  I originally woke up at 4:30am, and finally stayed up at 5:30am.  I fiddled around in my room awhile, grabbed a shower, and decided to venture out for breakfast.  I found this groovy little shop called Dark Horse Coffee Co. in which to pull up a chair and treat myself to hot chocolate and a croissant.  Great stuff!  Certainly worth a repeat trip (I'm trying to decide whether or not to go there again this morning, or to check out a recommendation of another place in town).

I tooled around town for awhile, taking some photos, walking through some shops.  Anchorage still seems to be a little on the 'sleepy' side these days... but we're still before the tourist boom, so I'm sure that will change very, very soon.

 Black-Billed Magpie - these birds are pretty common for the area.  I've seen a fair amount of them.  They have a rather obnoxious call (kind of reminds me of the common crow, for you Midwesterners), but I still found them fun to watch.
I walked out towards the most northern section of Cook Inlet and took a few minutes to look around, grab a few more pictures (the pictures certainly don't do the landscape any justice).

For dinner, I ran by Uncle Joe's Pizzeria in town - not a bad little place, and it had decent pizza.  Certainly doesn't compare to Chicago in that department... but overall it was decent.

The weather as been in the mid-40's since I've been here.  A little chilly, but not so bad that I can't layer up a little, throw some gloves on, and head out without a coat.  There's still a significant amount of snow on the ground, but it's been slowly melting with the higher temperatures.

Today I have plans to meet with a JeepKJ forum member that lives in the area.  We're going sight-seeing and going to grab some lunch/dinner.  Sounds like a good, last day in Anchorage.  Tomorrow I'm on the train headed north for Fairbanks!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Leaving on a jet plane...

Aaron delivered me to O'Hare International Airport this morning to drop me off for the first of two flights that would take me to Anchorage, Alaska. I made every effort to keep things as light-hearted as possible, but between some last-minute texts from my mom and Sierra... I was starting to turn into a big ball of mush. I will miss everyone – more than I thought previously. Leaving Aaron behind as I walked towards airport security was difficult – I didn't want to be the first one to walk away. But I made it through in one piece, and I hope he did too. Once through security, it was just a matter of waiting – there was nothing eventful - a quick stop to McD's for breakfast, and then sitting at the gate watching the crews do their work outside.

On my flight from Seattle to Anchorage, I was seated in amongst some nice southern fellas all the way from Louisiana (nod to Bub) that were headed up to Kenai to do 3 weeks worth of construction work - I'm thinking something to do with oil, but they didn't confirm that.  The older gentleman of the group said that by the end of the week, there would be well over 100 others joining them... they had 14 on the plane in their group.  I was wiped out after 2 flights today, and they had on more after they arrived in Anchorage.  Be safe, fellas.

I now report from Bent Prop Inn in Anchorage.  I have a groovy little dorm-style room that I'm sharing with 2 other ladies (one of which I haven't met yet).  Cher is originally from Memphis, TN.  She's a little older than me, I guess to be in her early/mid-40's.  We hit it off right away - she told me about her kids, and vice versa.  She's very easy to talk to and I like her a lot.  She keeps telling me how much I'm going to love it here - I'm guessing that she'll be right.  The other gal, I am told, is an Alaskan native approximately the same age.  I wonder if I'll get to meet her before I crash for the evening.

I'm having a little bit of an issue acclimating to the time differences.  My computer tells me it's 11:23pm right now, whereas local time is 8:23pm.  I just ate dinner not too long ago and already feel like it's bedtime.  I know I just got here, but am hoping I adjust to this in the next day or so.  Quiet time here at the inn is 10pm, so I'm trying to stay up at least that long - which would be 1:00am at home.

Tomorrow will be all about exploring Anchorage.  Although it's Alaska's biggest city, it's not at all that big.  I would compare the downtown area to maybe twice with the Elgin downtown area is.  Not hugely significant, and very easily walkable.  I talked to Dave this afternoon (Bent Prop's owner/manager) - he gave me some ideas of things to check out in/around town while I'm here.  He told me of a trail nearby along the water that is great for landscape and wildlife viewing.  So what I lacked in photos today, I hope to make up for tomorrow.  I also need to arrange to meet Rachel - he's one of the JeepKJ Country forum members that lives not too far from Anchorage.  I think we're going to meet for lunch or something while I'm here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Final hurrah

Tomorrow is the day.  I fly at about 9:45am with 1-1/2 hour layover in Seattle.  I'm supposed to get in to Anchorage about 4:30pm Alaska time - which is 7:30pm here.  It's going to be a long day.

I'm nearly ready - only have to re-pack my suitcase one more time, do some last minute laundry, and pick up a couple of things from the store.

This whole thing feels very surreal.  I'm nervous, but ready.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A little lighter?

Back at the beginning of the year, I got in on the Biggest Loser contest they were having at work.  I managed to get away from some of my "crutch" items like drinking far too much Mt. Dew, and overall improved my eating habits.  And although the contest is long over, and I'm not even working at the same company anymore, my overall weight loss was in the neighborhood of 15-20 lbs.  I've maintained the weight since.  I can't really see the difference in the mirror, but my jeans have told the tale and have become more forgiving.  Granted, I still have a long way to go until I hit my own 'acceptable' weight.

In a conversation over coffee yesterday, one of my best friends said how she thought that with my time away in Alaska this summer, my pounds would probably melt away because I'll be so active all the time.  I'm not sure how true that is... but it did get me thinking.  Not only with the increased activity level be helpful, but I'll be in an environment where certain things are just not accessible.  Things like fast food or soda just won't be a minute or so away from the house.  And to go anywhere will involve a long walk and/or bike ride.  Aside from that, I'll be subjected to a lot of home-grown, natural, organic, non-processed foods... and won't have other options.  I see this working to my advantage in my weight loss endeavor as well.

So, maybe she was on to something.  To test the theory, I will weigh myself next Wednesday before I leave... as a starting point.  I won't pay any mind to weight or the scale or anything like that while I'm away - I don't want the added pressure or stress in thinking that I "need" to lose anything while I'm there.  I'm sure if the weight just melts away, as she suggested, I'll be able to tell by the clothes hanging off my body.  But for curiosity sake, I'll see what that number is when I get back.  This ought to be interesting.

With all this said, I have the next 2-3 days of lunch and dinner plans with family and friends... so I looks like that initial weight may be boosted before I even leave the house.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another chapter ends

Today marks my last day at OSG.  I made it nearly a year here (it would have been a year next Wednesday on April 11th... ironically, also the same day I fly for Alaska).  This time I left on my own terms instead of enduring yet another lay-off from a company bound for bankruptcy.  It feels better this way - much more positive and with much less stress.  I'll miss a decent portion of my co-workers - some a whole lot more than others.  But this is good.  It's a positive close to this door on my life, and hopefully a great beginning to the next chapter... a better beginning.

Although it's not necessary to show up at a workplace anymore, I'll have plenty going on these last few days of being at home.  Packing for Alaska has been hectic and frantic, at best.  I have most things together, but it's the smaller nuance items that I know I'll forget.  Thank goodness for a 2-day stay in Anchorage for me to get my bearings, and get my head together, and pick up last minute items before I head further north.

Last minute lunch/dinner plans abound!  We have a lunch date and two dinner dates this weekend in addition to all the other little things.  I'll be packing as many visits to as many people as I can muster in the next 5 days... and yet, I don't think it'll still feel like enough.  It's difficult when you know your days are limited.  Heck, I even look at the pets differently because I know days are numbered with them too.  On one hand, I wish I could take everyone and everything with me when I go... but on the other hand, I don't want that.  This is something that I need - the space, the change of environment, the fresh look at everything.  My life in overhaul mode.  As much as I will miss, I hope to grow exponentially from the experience.

I keep telling myself... this will be good for me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

(WK#14) Apr 02 -- Night

I had to pull one out of the files as the weather either has not cooperated, or life has gotten in the way. One of my favorites from last summer.