Scarlett’s Letter July 8, 2013

There were errands to be run and business to be tended to today, and nothing really, terribly interesting about either. I decided to get my WiFi fix at the local Barnes and Noble.

In case you haven’t noticed, I am pretty technologically dependent. I travel with two laptops, an iPad, an iPod, two iPhones, a Kindle, a helmet camera, a digital camera and a few other personal electronic devices. My backpack/computer bag is like a miniature, transportable, Best Buy. I am fairly internet dependent, as well. I Google EVERYTHING, unless the topic involves movies or personalities, in which case IMDB is my reference tool of choice.  I rely on internet both for work and for many of my leisure activities, such as social networking, blogging and vlogging.

My man is the complete opposite. He has an iPhone and a television, often with only one channel, usually PBS. He lives far enough from town that there is, at best, one bar of cellular service available. On a good day. If you’re standing outside, at the edge of the porch. We are accepting of each other and our respective technological aptitude, dependency (me) and abstinence (him).

I managed for the first week fairly well. I was able to tap out an article here or there and would post from the car with my MiFi device en route to and from areas with cellular coverage. I even managed to upload pictures with my articles from the passenger seat of the car. I felt very adept. But, even though I was able to accomplish a lot with my brief mobile internet sessions, I was jonesing a bit for a prolonged online session. This day was just the ticket.

I have made use of this particular Barnes and Noble, in Fairbanks, Alaska, before. I was a regular there during my last visit north. I know the lay of the land. There is one, just one, table near an electrical outlet. There are two armchairs, without tables, with electrical outlets behind them. There is a hard wooden chair next to a pillar in the children’s section with an outlet, as a last resort. And though there are several lovely, cushy armchairs circling a round fireplace, sadly, they are “powerless”, all of them. There is free WiFi, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. It is a bit weak and you have to accept the terms over and over again, every couple of hours. Still, it is better than nothing, so I was grateful and, when necessary, just pulled out my own WiFi (MiFi) device if the “free” signal became too weak.

So, today, I caught up on downloading tunes, Kindle books, Audible books and catching up on the YouTube channels I subscribe to. I uploaded several things and caught up on the news on Facebook. I had a geeky gadget girl ‘gasm. It was grand!

It is interesting, though, what happens when someone as technically inclined as I am is without technical resources. When asked a question or a definition of a word, I will usually Google. Without Google, at first, I was a bit befuddled. But, I can be resourceful and soon I figured out I could just pull out my Kindle and access the dictionary. In another instance, a cooking term had us both in a quandary. No Google available and the dictionary on the Kindle was of no help. I grabbed “The Joy of Cooking” off my man’s windowsill and looked up the word in the index and read the recipe for details. I felt so old school. I felt so smart. I felt so resourceful. I have to wonder, being a digital immigrant, myself, if a digital native would even know what to do without their digits!

I have always believed that true intelligence is not the memorization of facts but the ability to identify and access the appropriate references or information. True, I have great admiration for those in my profession who can recite tax code or audit guidance, chapter and verse. I am not one of those people. But I have no less admiration or respect for those who know where to access that same information when needed. Whether digitally or not.

Later in the day, we were watching a PBS broadcast on the one channel on the old school television. And by “old school” I mean you have to get up, walk over to the television and hit buttons to adjust the volume or try to access another (sporadic) channel. The show we watched was about a “new” method of teaching history in a high school district in Northern California. The students were given access to different accounts or documentation of historical events. They had to “source” the documents from different accounts of the event and interpret the information, then summarize, in their own opinion, what occurred historically. In other words, in case you don’t realize this, history, like many other things we all tend to consider “factual”, is really just an account of events interpreted by any number of authors. I studied political science, my minor, in college, and in several of my courses, had to access different source documents and make my own, independent interpretation. I had to “source” my documents; I had to know who wrote it, where they got their information, understand their interest or position in order to determine the reliability of the information and how much of that information I would be willing to consider in my own, independent interpretation.

Sourcing information, it seems, is not something everyone is practiced at or knowledgeable about. If it’s on the news, it must be true, because “they” said so. So many people just accept, blindly, what they read in the newspaper, what they hear on the radio or see on television as absolute fact. This goes further. History. Religion. Science. Politics. Law. Medicine. There are many different opinions, many different accounts, many different interpretations and, hence, many different beliefs, and, truly, very few hard facts. As you go through your day, whether you are a digital native or a digital immigrant or a digital refugee, know that wherever you obtain information there are likely to be different sources, different opinions and different interpretations. Our success, our peace of mind, our understanding, and the basis for many decision we make, all rely on our recognition of this fact and our ability to understand, research and arrive at our own, independent conclusion.

So, wherever you derive information from, whether online, like me, today, or offline, like me the rest of this week, knowing where to access it and how to source it and understanding that there are likely to be many different interpretations or accounts of the same “facts”, is really what intelligence is all about. True wisdom is acknowledging this. Consider the common saying, “consider the source” and then, do,

Technological dependency. There may be no cure.
Technological dependency. There may be no cure.

consider it.

 

Party Like an Eight Year Old

Do you remember Geoffrey the Giraffe? The Toys ‘R’ Us giraffe? Remember his song? “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid, blah dah blah dah blah”. I can totally relate.

When I was eight, I had it all figured out. I want to go back. I want to party like an eight year old.

Remember those birthday parties where you got to invite everyone you knew to come to your house that was decorated with whatever you were into that year, Barbie or My Little Pony or Power Rangers?! You got to eat cake, play games, eat ice cream and you got a gift, wrapped in wrapping paper, with a bow, and a card, from everyone who attended and sometimes, even, from people who didn’t. And you didn’t have to plan the party or clean up the mess, you got to show up, party, and then go play with all your loot, unsupervised, while the grown ups cleaned up the mess. And the grown ups footed the whole bill, too. Those were the days.

At Christmas time, you got a million gifts, wrapped in paper, with tape and bows and little nametags on them. And you got gifts from your parents, all your aunts and uncles and Santa Claus, too. You didn’t have to plan, or cook, or shop, or clean. You just showed up, partied, and someone else cleaned up the mess and footed the bill while you played with all your loot. Those were the days. I forget, now, why I wanted so desperately to grow up. It kind of sucks by comparison.

I’m kind of tired of how grown ups do this whole birthday and Christmas thing. A Facebook wall post ensures you haven’t been forgotten, thank you, Facebook, for reminding everyone, and still, you only get about 1/6 participation. I post birthday greetings on Facebook absolutely, positively every single day for absolutely everyone on my friends list, whether I know them, or not, and people call me crazy for doing so. Sorry. They’re “friends”, it says so on the list, so I wish them happy birthday because that’s what friends do. It takes like, five seconds, and, if you’re super worried about overcommitting yourself, there is actually an app that allows you to do them up to two weeks in advance, all at once, and it “delivers” your sentiment (or you can simply go with the default “Happy Birthday”) at the date and time you prefer. It defaults to 9:00 AM, your time zone, on the actual birthdate. Not hard. So?

If you’re super, duper special, as a grown up, you might get an old fashioned greeting card, in the mailbox, requiring postage and some display of thought, commitment and effort like; I went to the store, or happened to be at the store to buy milk, and remembered your birthday was, (pick one): a) last week, oops b) today, oops c) this year, some time, oops. I bought this card with a sentiment that someone else wrote, because (pick one): a) it made me think of you, b) it was the first card I laid hands on and I don’t think it was offensive, or c) actually, I had someone else pick it out so I have no idea what it says. Then, I laid down $5 for it, scrawled my name inside and put it in the envelope. If I was smart, I bought stamps while I was still at the grocery store, or else I had to show extreme effort and stand in line at the post office to buy a single stamp for this single card and have it sent to you. I got three, two mailed. Mom handed me hers.

I still buy and wrap real gifts for everyone special in my life. And at least one card, sometimes more than one, if I find more than one super appropriate card or several that make me laugh out loud in the Target card aisle. I’ve been known to give two or three cards. I even buy “the perfect” card, or cards, in advance and file them, by intended recipient, in my file cabinet. I plan all year long, I have lists, secret, password protected lists, on my iPhone, where I jot down gift ideas for family members as things are mentioned, or I notice something I think would be appreciated. And in my “contacts” section of my phone, I keep secret, detailed notes on my loved ones, like shirt size, shoe size, pant size, the ink cartridge their printer requires and their preferred Starbucks, In N Out, and deli sandwich orders. You don’t?

I take great pleasure in seeking out the gift, the perfect version of the perfect gift, and I buy it and wrap it up with real wrapping paper, you know, like with tape (that sticky stuff that comes in a roll) and the whole deal. I rarely use gift bags and tissue paper (not toilet paper, tissue paper), especially for Christmas, but depending on the size or shape of the gift, every now and then, a gift bag is the best solution. Then I present the present (or presents) to my loved ones and it makes them happy, but it makes me even happier. I love to give people gifts. I’m as excited as they are for it to be opened. There is nothing quite like witnessing an adult, totally jazzed to open a gift you’ve taken some time and effort to find, buy and wrap. I’m alone here, aren’t I? Apparently.

I even take an inordinate amount of delight in selecting the wrapping paper, and then choosing tissue paper, for inside the box, that matches, or is a cool contrast with, the wrapping paper. I also choose a matching bow or other embellishment, and all of this is done with attention to things like the recipient’s favorite color, or favorite cartoon character, or a design or pattern I think they’ll find pleasing or attractive. For Christmas, I buy new wrapping paper every single year. Usually. Last year was a departure, and, frankly, I found, as a result, the Christmas spirit was a bit subdued. Last time I do that.

On rare, and I mean rare, occasions, I buy people gift cards, but usually as a result of being asked directly for a gift card. For graduation gifts, though, I give cash, and that’s the only time ever. I got cash for my birthday. I spent it on gas, and a frozen pizza, and a six-pack of premium beer. I’ll never forget it.

How is it that this has become a lost art? Is it really that difficult? Do we need to consider offering this as a required class in high school, or something? Gift Giving 101. Fail.

People in my life wonder why I have sort of a shopping habit. Let me explain. I buy for myself what I want and I know no one is going to buy for me. They’re gifts, I guess. I just spread them out over the year to mitigate the economic impact. I think I’m fairly likable, so for everyone who likes me and didn’t buy me a gift, I’ve got you covered, I buy myself a few gifts for Christmas and a few for Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day, and my Birthday. Did I miss a gift-buying season? I hope not, because I’m broke after my birthday, I bought myself a dress, and an awesome pair of shoes, and a couple of cute tee shirts and a skydiving trip, I had a hard time wrapping that one. It was a big birthday, I got carried away. Now I gotta save up before Christmas rolls around again.

If the current trend continues, I can foresee, in the not so distant future, people not knowing what to do with a box, wrapped in bright, cheerful paper. You’ll hand it to them and they’ll just give you a blank stare and, perhaps, say, “Wow, a pretty box. Cool.”

Did you ever give a baby or a toddler an awesome gift, in a box, all wrapped up? They tear the wrapping paper off the box, open the box, take the contents out, and climb into the box, gift totally overlooked, and they’re so totally enthused, you just let it go for a while. That’s what’s going to happen in the next decade, for all of us, if this alarming trend continues. “Wow, a cool box! I can use this, for something!”

We had a dog, once, who loved to open presents. Yes, guilty, I even bought the dogs birthday and Christmas presents. And wrapped them. They got a cupcake, too, and a bowl of ice cream. And so did the humans. Any excuse to party, I tell you, that’s what I’m all about. But this dog, Wylie, the Springer Spaniel, he loved to open gifts! He’d lie down on the kitchen floor and grasp the box between his front paws. Sometimes his butt was up in the air, tail wagging, other times he was flat on the floor, but the tail was still wagging. He’d tear the paper off the present with his teeth and paws, and then start working on the box. The other dog, a Beagle, Genevive, would get into the act, too, she wouldn’t initiate the gift opening frenzy, but she’d help once it was underway. It. Was. Awesome. Until I stayed up all night wrapping Christmas gifts and found them all unwrapped under the tree the next morning. We went back to the “Santa Claus plan” after that; all gifts stayed in their hiding places until early Christmas morning. Oops, spoiler alert.

So, I don’t know. I write a lot on things we can do to maintain our health, to prolong our youth, vigor and lust for life. What I really want to know is, how can I expand on this exponentially, so I can go back in time? I really want to party like an eight year old.

 

My birthday cards! :D
My birthday cards! 😀

Scarlett’s Letter July 13, 2013

My wonderful, perfect, fun, romantic vacation draws to a close, and with every passing second I try not to let the fact that I’m returning “home” dampen my mood. But it does. But I try not to let it show, and I’m not sure I pulled it off 100%. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not like I won’t be back, I will, I just don’t know when and my vacation time from work dwindles. With only half the year behind us and one week of vacation left, it is hard to figure out where to take that week. Next week would be grand, but then the next six months would be hard to endure. I try not to think about it.

We busied ourselves this morning, fishing. We revisited the stocked ponds along the Steese Highway. We were armed, we thought, with what no fish could resist; freshly gathered and dried salmon roe. I harvested it myself and it has been drying in the yard for the past few days, as the salmon strips dried in the smoker. We harvested a small alder tree from the yard, stripped the bark from it, chopped it up and used it to smoke the fish in the smoker. The roe just dried, slightly, on racks in the sunshine.

We visited the prettiest of the several ponds first and saw trout everywhere, jumping for insects, swimming past us in small schools, inches from our “irresistible” bait. I tried a lure, a spoon, a spinner, with and without bait. Stuck up fish. Stuck up hatchery born, commercially fed fish. They don’t even know what salmon roe is, apparently, nor that any normal, wild fish would attack it like Jaws a young, teen, swimmer at the beach. Eventually, we moved on to the next, less scenic, more successful pond, based on our earlier experience. Nothing. Nothing, but mosquitos. We gave up early and fast and returned home, with thoughts of, maybe, hitching up the airboat and going after the “sure to catch” grayling on the Chatanika. Once home, though, in the heat of the day, we decided not to. Not to do anything. And it was splendid, just some quality, quiet time. A siesta.

As evening approached, my plan was to take my man out for a nice dinner, my treat, in thanks and in appreciation for such a wonderful vacation. We called to make reservations as The Turtle Club in nearby Fox, and, thankfully, they had a couple of openings left, and one for precisely when we’d hoped for. We got all dressed up after washing the smell of mosquito dope and salmon roe off, and headed towards town. We had a lovely, lovely, large, large dinner, which, against my plan, ended up being his treat, for my upcoming birthday. My sweet man! We skipped dessert, on purpose.

Across the street, in Fox, is Silver Gulch Brewery, where we met nearly three years ago, and today is Beerfest, featuring tastings and a live polka band in the tent adjacent to the brewery. The parking lot was jammed full, so we parked across the street and skipped the fest and just went in for a quick visit with the “locals” at the bar and a beer (40 Below for me). We had an engagement for dessert, up the hill, and enjoyed filling our free time between dinner and dessert visiting and sipping.

We enjoyed dessert and wine with the neighbors up the road, as we always enjoy time with them. As they prepare to sell their home and move away and make a new life in the “lower forty-eight”, I struggle to face the fact I leave this “vacation world” tomorrow morning and return to my life, firmly rooted in the “lower forty-eight”. People come and go in life, not so much like a tide, but more like a river, there for a fleeting moment, in the grand scheme of things, then on with the current. When I think of the number of people I have had friendships with over the course of my, now, fifty years, the number, in total, is staggering. And, at moments like this, I want the river to freeze, like rivers do, here in Alaska. I will return, soon enough, but it will be different, not better or worse, necessarily, but different. In time, even a short period of time, there are changes, and we have to accept and adapt to those changes. Or be left behind, saddened and confused.

Living with my elderly mom, lonely since my dad passed, or longer, she fills quiet with one-sided conversation; mostly of “how things used to be, when times were better”. She mourns for the world today, not at all like the world she thrived in, a world that, to her, was simpler, slower, softer and more tangible. She just exists in this world, she doesn’t understand it, appreciate it, or participate in it, complicated, fast paced, unforgiving and digital. Today’s world is foreign and hostile, scary and unwelcome. Today’s world, that which Mom fears and discounts, I embrace and drink in. And with this lesson, vivid in my mind, I pray that I am always appreciative, accepting and a willing participant in the world, and as it evolves and changes. As the world evolves and changes, I hope, so, too, shall I. I don’t ever want to be sorrowful or bitter for a world that has changed in my midst, I don’t want to be left behind, saddened and confused. As I head home and my world at home and the world that I love, here, both are destined to change, I vow to boldly embrace those changes and adapt and be joyous for the new, exciting experiences ahead, the new people, with the hope that some people in my life remain steadfast, and with the hope that the people who do move on remain, somehow, close. And so, many smiles, chocolate mousse and more wine! Salut!

 

 

Salmon roe drying in the sun, excellent bait for most trout.
Salmon roe drying in the sun, excellent bait for most trout.
The prettier fishing pond, stocked with fish that don't know salmon roe is good bait!
The prettier fishing pond, stocked with fish that don’t know salmon roe is good bait!
Alder wood from the front yard was used to smoke the red salmon strips from our trip to Chitina earlier this week.
Alder wood from the front yard was used to smoke the red salmon strips from our trip to Chitina earlier this week.
Smoking the salmon strips over alder wood.
Smoking the salmon strips over alder wood.
An example of change; what is now Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, AK is on the site of the old Fox Roadhouse.
An example of change; what is now Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, AK is on the site of the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built "around" the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built “around” the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built "around" the old Fox Roadhouse.
Preserving the past: the Silver Gulch Brewery building was built “around” the old Fox Roadhouse.
Our friends' amazing chocolate mousse with a super "secret" ingredient!
Our friends’ amazing chocolate mousse with a super “secret” ingredient!

Scarlett’s Letter July 12, 2013

Today, near Fairbanks, the weather was perfect. Perfect! It was warm and sunny with no clouds in sight and no smoke from the nearby fires. And since we planned on a canoe trip down the Upper Chatanika River, perfect was just perfect!

We met the neighbor up the road with her kayak and the neighbor’s down in the valley with their two canoes. There were five of us in all, our friends, a mother/son team, with the son working on requirements for his Canoeing Boy Scout merit badge in their canoe, me and my man in the second, borrowed canoe, and our friend with her kayak. We were kindly chauffeured to our launch spot and set off, armed with snacks, sandwiches, the best gluten-free cookies ever, mosquito dope, fishing gear, extra clothes, various cameras, all with near dead batteries and a firearm. Just in case, a necessary precaution in, well, just about anywhere, outdoors, in Alaska.

I’ve been on this river a few times before, in an airboat, and I kind of had the gist of it, but, still, I will admit, I was a little nervous. I’ve been a passenger and in participated in no way in the navigation. I just hung on and smiled. I haven’t canoed in quite some time, and have usually canoed on a lake, or “flat water” as it is often called. Rivers can be tricky, and even rivers you are familiar with can change, literally, overnight. One new tree fall can make a lazy stretch a much more hazardous challenge. I remember one of the few times I did canoe on a river, the Russian River in Sonoma County (Northern California), back in college, in an aluminum canoe, we got sideways in the current and sort bend the canoe around a bridge pier. We straightened it out as best we could, and, believe it or not, no questions were asked when we returned it to the rental company. So. Yah. A tad nervous. I knew I was in good hands, with much experience, both with the river and with canoeing in general. So, I just paddled as instructed. And smiled.

Originally, this was going to be a “ladies” trip, but not all the ladies could attend, so we invited the guys. And as soon as we encountered our first tricky tree snag, which required some thought, planning, contemplation and strength, we were glad we had the men with us, for more than just their good looks and excellent company! There were a few passages we had to stop and walk and figure out whether to proceed by land or by “sea”. We fished along the way, catching an Artic Grayling with every few casts, most of which were released.

As we made our way down this scenic river, we passed an upended tree root in the middle of the river. Caught in the snag was a fishing rod, the first canoe spotted it and yelled back to our canoe to try to grab it. I was in the front, so as we sidled up along the snag, I grabbed the fishing pole. The top half detached from the bottom half, so I had half. My man grabbed the bottom half! And in the time it took to negotiate around the next few bends in the river, I had the twigs, dirt and other river matter removed from the reel, the rod reassemble almost correctly, and another functioning pole for us to use! Finders keepers!! The unofficial fishing derby competition intensified. And at the rate we were fishing, it was going to be a very long canoe trip!

We pulled the canoes and kayak ashore at one point and enjoyed the food we all brought, potluck style. I made a salmon spread, for the first time ever, with only a little supervision and guidance. I used one of the jars of salmon we canned just a couple of days earlier, added some salt and pepper and some mayo and sweet relish. It was really, really good, bones and skin and all! Now, I get it with the whole jarred salmon thing. I’d still prefer fresh, of course, or a frozen filet, but the jarred salmon has many, many options for deliciousness!

I’d brought my “helmet cam” and we fastened it to our canoe, turned it on, and anticipated the potential of eight hours of digital filming capacity! I also had my “still “camera with me, which has both still and video functionality, and I let our friend borrow it to take some pictures as “evidence”, if needed, for the canoeing merit badge. Sadly, though, and totally my oversight, the batteries died after a couple of shots. After our lunch on the rocky banks, we took again to the river. Our river. We were the only people on this part of the river, all day long, until we arrived at our destination. Bliss.

We paddled and fished, fished and paddled, trouble shooting “sweepers” (fallen trees or branches that, if passed under, could sweep you out of your canoe) and snags. We ported the canoes and kayak a time or two, the kayak being far more maneuverable than the canoes. At one point, focusing a bit more on fishing than paddling, the two of us fell a bit behind the other canoe and kayak. My man suggested we slow up and possibly walk around the fallen tree across that portion of the river. We watched as the other canoe headed through and they appeared to make it just fine. We paddled forward in pursuit. Then I noticed our friend in the kayak quickly beach her vessel and begin to run. I thought to myself, “she just went to ‘study nature’, as we used to call it in Girl Scouts”, so I couldn’t imagine she had to find another private spot behind a tree. As we drew closer, I saw the occupants of the other canoe, drenched, dragging their canoe towards the shore. The young man had firm grasp of one paddle and his mom was swiftly off and into the river after the other, which, thankfully, she retrieved, lest we have a canoe up the river without a paddle! Everything was soaked, but accounted for, except their fishing pole. Darn. You win some, you lose some. We’d won one, and now we’d lost one. We gave them our extra, our newly refurbished and almost as good as new, rod and reel. Fishing poles be dammed, thank goodness everyone was okay! And we set off. I decided, at this point, to tuck my helmet camera safely into a Ziploc buried deep into my daypack strapped securely to the canoe. I couldn’t wait to see the footage! Too bad the batteries were dead and there was nothing to view once I got home and tried to upload. Oh well. I was able to revive the other camera enough for a couple of photo op shots before the batteries decided they were, once again, dead. Or maybe just extremely sleepy.

The rest of the trip went without incident, a few fish caught, a couple released, a couple saved for later consumption. We reached our destination, the bridge crossing the Upper Chatanika at the Elliott Highway and called for our chauffeur. And with our thirty-three mile trek behind us, in five short hours, we made our way back home.

And, in reflection, all I can say is that I am so thankful; I am thankful for the unique opportunity to be able to share experiences like this with so many truly, wonderful people, in such a magical and beautiful place, with so much laughter and friendship, love and fun. I am thankful, most of all, that we all made the trip safely, of course, and look forward to many returns. I’m a lucky girl. Blessings counted!

 

Getting ready to go.
Getting ready to go.
Potluck lunch of the banks of the Upper Chatanika River
Potluck lunch of the banks of the Upper Chatanika River

An Effort to Evolve

 

 

Adventures with friends, can't beat it!
Adventures with friends, can’t beat it!

 

Scarlett’s Letter July 11, 2013

Such an amazing day today!

My man had to work this morning, so I found myself “home alone”, and, when home alone, I am usually going to misbehave in some way, big or small. This morning, I had a Cali girl moment. Truthfully, though summer here, I have been just a little cold, ever since I’ve arrived. It is warm enough outside, which means two things; there are mosquitos in hoards and, because there are mosquitos, I’ll have to wear a flannel to keep them from devouring me whole, which is both uncomfortable and weird. A flannel in summer! So, today, I misbehaved. I took a nice, long, hot shower and got ready. Long showers are wonderful, but in an effort to not be perceived as “high maintenance” or “taking forever to get ready”, I have been taking very quick showers, just twisting my hair into a bun with a clip or a hairband, and applying a minimal amount of makeup, and only to act as sunscreen, of course. This morning, unsupervised, unobserved, and with “all the time in the world”, I decided to exploit the situation. After my long, hot shower, I took the time and luxury to get all the way ready, to my complete and total satisfaction. I had a commitment today, actually, I needed to be at “the shop” by early afternoon to receive a canoe that needed patching for an adventure planned for tomorrow. So, I was on a schedule, but a very relaxed schedule. In other words, I had time to write. And take a long, hot shower. And get all the way ready to my complete and total satisfaction.

I got beautiful, in that luxurious manner that I only get to savor on rare occasions when no one is waiting for me. And, when I was ready, I went downstairs to make my coffee, enjoy my plain yogurt and honey, and to write, leisurely, until I had to head in to town. It was chilly in the house. I was cold. Even with my usual cardigan on. So, I misbehaved. I turned the heat on, only a little, I just bumped the arrow up a couple of degrees. Being an Alaskan home, there is insulation upon insulation within the walls, retaining heat during the bitter cold winters, but also retaining coolness when it is warm out. And barely warm out, for a NorCal girl. So, even though it is July and everyone else is complaining about the heat, I turned the heat on. And I did something I haven’t done for many, many, many years.

As a child, I grew up in a split level home in Napa, my bedroom upstairs, with hard wood floors. Napa has a mild climate. I live there, again, now, and, honestly, in the mornings, when the marine layer is resting, low, upon The Valley, it is fricking cold. I have always tended towards being cold, so, for me, this is more pronounced. And, though fifty now, I have not yet entered the world of hot flashes that most of my peers complain of. I almost look forward to being warm, for the first time in my life. For now, I am cold. As a child, in my room, I was cold, especially in the morning. Year round, for winters are cool and summer mornings are cool. Which I really don’t think is so cool. So, as a cold child, in the morning, when the heat turned on, I would sit over the floor vent to warm myself. I would hold my nightgown down over the vent, creating sort of a tent, in which I could experience true warmth. It was bliss. And this activity usually caused me to be late for school, or for swimming lessons in the summer, or for whatever activity I was to be readying myself for. This morning was no different.

And so, this morning, as the heat kicked on and I sat at the dining table and felt no effect, I took a trip back to childhood; I sat on the floor, immediately in front of the heater vent and absorbed the warmth. As an adult, I had my coffee at hand, my super fuzzy, glittery, bedazzled, leopard print Jessica Simpson slippers on and my computer in front of me, and I made good use of my time as I absorbed the blessed warmth while I wrote. It was heaven. I figured I had a few hours to myself and made myself quite comfortable. I had the key to the “shop”, for the planned canoe reconnaissance. With only one article written, though, I received a phone call from my man, “where are you?” My man was done with work and at the shop, without a key. He had another way in, so I agreed to head in to town, shortly, to meet him. I wrapped things up, turned the heat back down, and rolled into town. I might have had the heat on in the car. Just a little.

I made it to the shop a little before my scheduled canoe reconnaissance mission, met my man there, and we headed off for lunch. We returned to the shop and I managed to post an article or two, thanks to my MiFi, from there. When the canoe arrived, visiting began and writing was abandoned, which is why, at this moment, more than a week later, I am still just a bit behind. But that is so okay! Two things I can do from virtually anywhere when there is nothing better to do; sleep and write. I will never choose one of those activities over any other. Ever. As much as I love them, even. And, I will usually choose to write over sleeping, if given the option and my eyes are willing to remain open. Time enough to sleep when dead.

As the canoe was patched, I had the opportunity to go bee keeping! And, so, I did! A friend I’ve made in Alaska not only keeps bees, but teaches others about keeping bees. I am a huge believer in the health benefits of including “local” honey in my daily diet. I, honestly, eat local honey absolutely, positively every day. Let’s talk about this a bit.

As a child, I was plagued with, really, life threatening allergic asthma. I was admitted to Children’s Hospital on a fairly regular basis, with pneumonia, as a complication of allergic asthma. I vividly remember, and I do mean vividly, being in an oxygen tent. I remember, vividly, being left alone in a hospital when my parents went home for the night, when visiting hours were over, as a toddler. For my entire childhood, I received allergy shots in an attempt to mitigate the effects that ordinary, everyday substances had on my ability to breathe; dust, pollen from virtually every tree, grass and weed, animal dander, mold. I was a freak. And without modern medicine, I doubt I’d have lived through my childhood. There are few of us that truly know the helplessness of not being able to draw in an adequate breath. It is terrifying. And frustrating. And humiliating. And limiting.

I like to think, as a result of my tenacity and sheer “mind over matter”, I began to overcome this condition. From the first moments I can remember as a small girl, I wanted a horse, more than breath, and when I was eleven, I spent my savings on just that; my very own horse. From that point on, much of my life was spent outdoors, in the fields and, usually, riding through a cloud of dust, and, presumably, pollen. And I was, for the most part, fine. From that point on, I only struggled with asthma during times of high stress, like midterms and finals. This may have been as a result of all those years of desensitization from allergy shots, or as a result of sheer will. Likely, both.

As an adult, I began, again, to suffer from allergies and related asthma. Fortunately, at the time, I worked for an allergist/pulmonary specialist and I had, readily available to me, allergy shots and related care. This, again, worked. Or was it sheer will to not have to live a life dependent on drugs and shots? That was twenty-five years ago and I don’t have any symptoms now; not a sniffle, nary a sneeze, never a wheeze. I am active, mostly outdoors, I live a completely full and active life, free from any allergic or asthmatic symptoms. I take no medication, prescription or over the counter, whatsoever. How can this be? Honey. In part, honey. Local honey. And sheer will. Okay, and stress management.

I will admit, for several years, in those “in between years”, in between allergy shots and discovering honey, I did rely on over the counter medications such as Allegra and Benadryl, and, against recommendations, sometimes both. After learning of the long-term, adverse affects of these remedies, and in particular, those of Benadryl, I stopped. And, out of sheer will, I made it through each and every pollen season, grass, weed, dust, smoke, mold, medication free. I didn’t have any discomfort, really, a few sniffles here, a sneeze or two there, teary eyes now and then, but certainly nothing I couldn’t just power through. I’d heard of using local honey as a means of desensitizing oneself to local pollens, many years beforehand, but had never considered it. A couple of years ago, I began to use local, organic honey as a substitute for sweeteners in things like yogurt and oatmeal, replacing refined sugar, and thus, realizing a double health benefit. I will never look back! I am 99% allergy and asthma symptom free, year-round. Learning to manage stress and keeping physically and emotionally healthy and fit, I strongly believe, have also been key contributors to a symptom free life. And while I can’t guarantee that this will be the case for everyone with chronic symptoms, it may be worth considering. You decide what’s best for you. If you truly do need medical intervention to prevent serious complications from allergies and asthma, I’m not one to criticize or to suggest that you don’t. I don’t. I’m blessed. And I feel I have the honeybee, and the power of positive thought, to thank.

I bee-lieve in bees! And I am terrified by the fact that the honeybee is facing difficulty as a result of climate change and the common use of pesticides and herbicides. Do you realize that if bees don’t survive we cannot survive? Without intervention. Unwelcomed intervention. When I say we can’t survive, I mean every living being on the planet, not just people who use local honey to desensitize themselves to local pollens, I mean each and every one of us. Bees pollenate all of the plants from which food is derived. And, yes, in an Orwellian world, this could probably be done manually, mechanically, artificially. But, being against genetically modified anything, I, too, am against the manual or mechanized pollination of, presumably, genetically modified plant organisms. The world, as designed, as it is intended, for our survival and for our health, relies on bees to pollenate plants from which we will derive our food, and from which the animals we consume derive food. In my opinion, we aren’t nearly as smart as we think we are, and replacing processes that have functioned perfectly for so many millennia seems a bit egotistical, on our part. True, we may understand the concepts and the mechanics and the chemistry and the science behind what happens, but I am certain that we don’t have all the information and skill and aptitude that nature has, after all, she has been practicing far longer than we’ve even populated this world. How presumptuous of us to assume we can even begin to do a better job, or even an adequate job replacing bees and pollination.

So, I bee-lieve in bees and all that they do for us. And today, I got to meet many, many, many, local, Fairbanks honeybees! I donned a legit beekeepers suit. I put legit beekeeper tools in my pockets and set off for the hives that were kept behind a garage in a residential area of Fairbanks, Alaska. In the next hour or so I was instructed on how to check the hives for several activities; honey making, worker and drone larvae, fertilization, and, hence, recent activity from the queen, ensuring she was both alive and active in the hive. I learned to spot tiny, rice grain like eggs in the honeycomb. I spotted the queen in a couple of the hives. It was exciting. It was fascinating.

I couldn’t have had a better teacher in all things bees! Dawn Cogan, of Science Based Art of Alaska, LLC, very knowledgeable and patient instructor and friend, gave me a thorough and very interesting and entertaining introductory lesson in beekeeping. Through Science Based Art, Dawn routinely instructs people interested in beekeeping and posts related information of their blog. I don’t know that I could, viably, be a beekeeper, at this stage in my life, with extensive travel for both work and pleasure, but, at some point in time when I decide I am able, again, to grow roots, I would love to consider it!  Until then, I am happy to pay a little extra for local, organic honey! And while beekeeping may not be possible for many of us, I do promote the inclusion of local, organic honey in the daily diet for two reasons; the personal health benefit and for the promotion of awareness of the vital part that honeybee plays in our environment.

Once we were done tending to the bees, ensuring that all was well within the hives and that they’d be busy as bees producing honey and pollenating and all those wonderful things, we strolled down the street a ways to discourage the guard bees from following us. At this point, we were safe to remove our bee suits. I can only imagine the sight, two people strolling down a suburban street, in bee suits, disrobing, and strolling back. Not a sight I’ve ever witnessed on the suburban streets I’ve inhabited! We made it back to the car, safely, with only a couple of bees following us, but, fortunately, no one was stung.

After a fun and educational afternoon of beekeeping, we returned home where day three of the “salmon saga” continued. Today, we stripped! Not what you’re thinking! Tsk, tsk, tsk, shame on you. We took a few salmon filets from our catch and stripped them for drying. I loved stripped, dried salmon as much, maybe even more, than Oreos. For real! So we sliced strips of salmon and soaked them in water salted enough to float a potato. Really. We patted them dry and placed them on racks in the smoker, outside, to dry in the warm air. No smoke, yet, just a screen held in place with magnets. Once the fish dry a bit, develop a “skin”, then we’ll smoke them to finish the drying process and to add the addictive flavor of alder wood smoke to the addictive flavor of red salmon.

What a great day! Learning about and helping in the preparation of two of my very favorite foods; honey and smoked salmon strips. Oh, and that bit with the heater, the coffee, my slippers and my blog! Heaven! To “bee” sure!

 

Misbehaving in the morning; me, coffee, and MacBook in front of the heater vent!
Misbehaving in the morning; me, coffee, and MacBook in front of the heater vent!

 

A day of "firsts". My first Philly Cheesesteak. Ever. OMG.
A day of “firsts”. My first Philly Cheesesteak. Ever. OMG.

 

Me and bees!
Me and bees!

 

An introduction to the keeping of bees with Dawn of Science-Based Art of Alaska LLC. I'm the one on the left.
An introduction to the keeping of bees with Dawn of Science-Based Art of Alaska LLC. I’m the one on the left.

 

Salmon strips cut and ready to soak before drying.
Salmon strips cut and ready to soak before drying.

 

Salmon strips are soaked in salt water with enough salt to soak a potato.
Salmon strips are soaked in salt water with enough salt to soak a potato.

 

Salmon, after soaking in salt water, ready to take out to the smoker.
Salmon, after soaking in salt water, ready to take out to the smoker.

 

Salmon will dry in the smoker for a couple of days before it is actually smoked.
Salmon will dry in the smoker for a couple of days before it is actually smoked.

 

Salmon drying in the smoke with screen in place to keep bugs out. I don't know about bears, but bugs can't get in.
Salmon drying in the smoker with the screen in place to keep bugs out. I don’t know about bears, but bugs can’t get in.

 

Just Dishing

For something people are so loathe to do, isn’t it amazing how strongly folks feel about how, exactly, dishes are done?

Unless I am completely exhausted, I really don’t mind doing dishes. In fact, I rather like it. When faced with a list of household chores, it is dishes I will tackle first. I am one of those folks who really prefers, okay, insists, that the dishes be done immediately after the meal is consumed. And, to me, “doing dishes” includes, also, the cleansing of counters and stovetops. So, I’m fastidious. In this respect. Dusting and vacuuming? Another story. But, I’m a kitchen person. When I entertain, it is usually the kitchen that becomes the center for visiting and socializing. I may be just a little food-centric.

I have not always felt quite this way. As a child, dishes were one of my chores. I seemed to have many chores as a kid. Both of my parents worked and I always came home from school and woke up on Saturday morning to find a list, in my mother’s familiar cursive, of chores to be completed, satisfactorily, by the time she got home. After dinner, it was my responsibility to clear the table, put the dishes in the dishwasher and clean any pots and pans. I loathed and despised this chore, and rather than just tackling it quickly and efficiently and enjoying the rest of my evening, I would stall and lollygag and take absolutely forever. Of course, after dishes came homework, so maybe I stalled at one to put off the other. I really don’t remember clearly my motives at that time. But, oddly enough, my kids were exactly the same way.

My dad worked every Saturday of my life until he retired, then he did dishes morning, noon and night. My mom, as an R.N., worked many Saturdays. So, Saturday, I did my thing. All day long. I’d make Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and bowls of cookie dough and chocolate frosting, which I ate out of the bowl with a spoon. I’d bake Bisquick biscuits and pancakes. And everything would pile up in the sink. Until about 3:00 PM. My mom was due home at about 3:30 PM. At 3:00 PM, I’d stop watching cartoons, or roller skating in the driveway, or doing gymnastics in the living room. I’d turn the stereo down so only I could hear it and the neighbors were, at last, relieved. And I began my chores; ironing my dad’s work shirts, cleaning the bathrooms, all two and a half, vacuuming, dusting, and, last of all, dishes. When my mom entered the house it was as though I’d done nothing all day long but chores. Except it smelled like strangely of pancakes. I’m still under the impression she was fooled. Perhaps not. I don’t know. We don’t discuss it. Her choice.

In college, with roommates, dishes were a source of irritation and disagreements. Living with friends from high school all through college, those friendships would sometimes become strained due to dishes. We all came from different households, of course, where dishes were done (or not) differently, and these differences were not appreciated or understood by anyone else. I came from a home where they were always done immediately after a meal. Others came from homes where they were only done when the cupboards were empty and there was no room left in the sink, on the countertops, the stovetop, in the oven, or the kitchen table. And there was everything in between. And it was always chaos, finger pointing, gossiping, and complaining.

In my own household, married and raising a family, I preferred dishes to be done immediately after a meal, and in the manner I was accustomed to. My husband was not of the same ilk, his mother having passed away when he was a fairly young boy, he was “raised” by his father. And his twin brother. May as well have been raised by wolves. And yet, for someone with no real guidance in the kitchen, he had some very deep seated and non-negotiable kitchen “cleanliness” requirements I just never accepted, appreciated or respected. This, truly, may be one of the irreconcilable differences I list on the divorce papers. Dishes. And in particular, the dish brush and the sponge.

For a time, we lived together, before nuptials. And, for a time, we had roommates to help offset the rent expense. And, for that time, we had one of two problems; dishes in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, on the table and none in the cupboard. The other problem, no dishes in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, on the table, or in the cupboard. No dishes. Anywhere. How could that be? One day, home alone, I sought to investigate this mystery. I carefully and quietly entered the bedroom of our only remaining roommate, Bob, suspecting I might find dishes on his desk, dresser, bookcase, etc. Nope. No dishes. How can dishes just disappear? And then suddenly reappear, dirty, in the sink, on the counters, on the stove, and on the table? Bob’s closet was slightly ajar and as I passed I caught a glimpse of something suspicious. A dish. I ever so quietly pulled the closet door open and found, to my disgust and dismay, every dish we owned, crusted with food, some of it in various states of decay, on the shelf in his closet. Ew. Bob was pissed that I’d entered his room to find such a horror. I was pissed to have entered Bob’s room to find such a horror. Luckily, I won the pissing contest and Bob moved out.

I have observed many friends and their dish doing habits, and everyone seems quite married, or at least betrothed, to their way of doing things. I have one dear, dear, long time friend who has an absolutely perfect, always ready to entertain at a moment’s notice, Sunset magazine kind of home. She lives a completely charmed life in about every way imaginable, but that’s a story for another time. I hate her. I love her. It’s complicated. But really, I love her. No, I hate her. Never mind. It’s complicated. Anyway, when she had her first child “we” (all the girlfriends, spouses and our babies of various annoying ages) visited her, at home, just as she came home from the hospital. This was not my idea, but, rather, that of one of us who did not yet have children and probably, the well-meaning saint she is, thought this was okay. A fantastic meal for many mouths was prepared in her flawless kitchen and a gigantic mess was made in the process. When the food was devoured and it came time to do dishes, the new mother, infant in hand, became Beelzebub himself. She has always been a little “temperamental”, but this was beyond temperamental and more like a tempest. This was the first time, ever, that I became acquainted with the fact that some people really, really, truly, deeply and passionately care about how, exactly, and I mean EXACTLY, the dishes are loaded into the dishwasher. For me, the dishes went in however they fit and they came out clean. End of story. No, not so. The forks go here, this way, the spoons, the dessert spoons, here and that way. The soup spoons here and another way. Bowls here facing this way, plates there facing that way. I need a fucking diagram! I went and changed my son’s diaper. For the fifth time. Though he didn’t require it. Just before the dishes were done, having run out of diapers (how did that happen), we retreated to my mom’s house for the night where the dishes just got put into the dishwasher, the button was pressed and they came out clean. That, too, with time, has changed. With mom. And me. Sort of.

More recently. I have a friend whose house is always a deplorable mess. I have a hard time even entering her house, and yet, she unapologetically continues to invite me into her home. I have actually had the dry heaves a time or two, which I’ve cleverly disguised as a sneeze. It smells like animals she doesn’t even own in there. It smells like dead animals she never owned in there. What did a dead dinosaur smell like? Maybe that’s the odor. I cannot begin to describe the horrors within, except that Bob’s closet did not even hold a candle to all that is her house. The kitchen is the worst. Or maybe the bathroom. Or perhaps the living room. No, the kitchen. I never ate anything at her house or anything that came from her house. Once, when visiting this friend, she was making a “protein shake”. She offered to make me one. I told her I was allergic to protein. I don’t think she believed me. She put the ingredients in a dirty, crusty, opaque with slime blender bowl, placed her hand over the top as a lid, turned it on and poured it into some random and visibly dirty vessel on the counter and licked her hand. She grabbed the cleanest appearing spoon she could find, one positioned disturbingly close to a half full, dried up can of canned cat food and stirred the concoction. Then, to my horror, she licked the spoon, opened a drawer and threw it in like it were clean. I would cringe when I saw people eat things she’d prepared for a potluck. I would tell them, later, unsolicited, but out of a sheer sense of duty, “I have Imodium with me, if you ever need it.” They’d eye me like I was selling street drugs, but on more than one occasion I was sought out for this remedy.

I really don’t know how my parents got me to first of all, consent to do the dishes, dutifully, each and every night, nor do I know how they enforced this request. With my own kids, it was requested and yet, never happened. Perhaps it was because I grew up not really caring about homework, and the struggles that ensued later in life, as a result, I wished my own offspring to avoid. So, when I asked them to do dishes all they need say to ensure their release from such duty was “I have a ton of homework”. That meant, simply enough, I had a ton of dishes to do. Myself, while my spouse sat, comatose, in front of the television, doing finger aerobics with the remote.

Interestingly enough, when my daughter and I went to Girl Scout camp together, we always, always conspired to volunteer to do dishes. And I swear it was her idea more than mine. By doing dishes, you got your required chore done early and fast AND, most importantly, your hands got clean for the first time all day in that wonderful, warm, soapy water. And, if you did the dishes you didn’t have to clean the BIFFY (bathroom in (the) forest for you). Once we returned home, with nice clean, soft hands, though, it was as though she’d never learned to do dishes. Nor could I convince her to clean the BITHY (bathroom in the house (for) you). How did she have homework in July? I’m such a schmuck.

The dish brush and the sponge; twenty years of yuck and one of the (many, many, many, many) straws that finally broke the camel’s back. Perhaps being raised by wolves would have been an improvement, but, somewhere along the line, my husband decided it was proper, heck, absolutely, positively and non-negotiably, required that the dish brush be kept behind the faucet. You know, that little trench of potential disgustingness between the faucet and the wall? Sure, let’s put the slimy, greasy, food encrusted dish brush there and create a miasma in that impossible to clean area. And, let’s just keep the festering sponge next to the faucet on the rim of the sink, until it falls into the sink, in which case, we’ll just pile the dirty, food laden dishes on top of it until we “deep six” the dishes. To “deep six” the dishes, we just fill the sink with hot soapy water and bury the dirty dishes until someone else (me) comes along and puts them in the dishwasher. Meanwhile, the sponge is at the bottom of this science experiment, in now cold, greasy, dirty dishwater and has to be dug out, wrung out, and then, filthy and contaminated, used to “clean” the dishes.

When the dish brush, the sponge and everything else got to the point that I could stand no more (and, really, it was the everything else), I left. I moved to my very own apartment. All by myself. And for the first time, ever, I was in complete control of my environment. I was in heaven. Bliss. Bliss squared. Bliss exponentially an exponential number or times. I embraced this sense of control to an almost unhealthy point. Not a single carpet fiber was out of place. I’ve always liked to make my bed as soon as I got up, but I actually learned how to make my bed, pretty much, as I climbed out from under the covers. Dishes were done the instant the meal was over, including pots and pans, casseroles and serving dishes. The counters were cleansed and so was the stove before, during and after each and every use. And sometimes more often, just because I loved the smell of my “Method” lavender spray cleaner. I began to load my dishwasher in a very specific manner; forks here, spoons there, knives thusly, plates this way, bowls that way. I ran my dishwasher every single night, even if there was only one plate, one knife, one fork and one spoon. I unloaded my dishwasher promptly each morning, after making my bed, while the hot water heated for my coffee. After doing my dishes I actually cleaned and dried out my sink so there would never be those annoying stains I’d have to clean with an abrasive. Same with the shower, as soon as I was done showering, I cleaned and wiped down the shower so I’d never actually have to clean the shower. I loathe and despise, with a passion, shower mold. This was my world. This was my heaven. This was heaven on earth. Then my daughter moved in.

Bless her heart, returning “home” from college to a home she’d never lived in, but a welcome relief from the home we’d lived in for many years beforehand, this new intensity of cleanliness was both welcomed and a bit overwhelming. But, as a result, and with some initial struggle, in her own home now, it is ship shape and tidy and clean. She, ever the entertainer, and now married to her high school sweetheart, their home is much like my dear, old friend’s, who, ironically, also married her high school sweetheart, spotless and always ready for friends to visit, invited or not.

After living in my own apartment for a while, I moved in with my son when his roommates, all friends from high school, moved out to transfer to other schools. Left with a full size, single family dwelling and the full sized lease payment, I decided not to renew my apartment lease, pulled up my perfectly clean and tidy roots and moved into a house that had been occupied by four college boys for a year. It was like a horror movie. There were, literally, footprints on the nine-foot ceilings. Somehow. And the chemical equation for an illegal substance drawn on the plate glass window with a Sharpie. That’s before we even broach the subject of the kitchen. Over the months I was able to slowly transform the trashed house and small yard into something that almost resembled an abode for quasi-normal people. Almost. Even after the house was tidy, though, there continued a small battlefield. The sink. And the stove. Okay, and the refrigerator. We’ll just say the kitchen, to be all-inclusive. And, again, with my son working nearly full-time and attending school full-time, and with him being an adult and, every now and then, paying his portion of the rent, it was difficult to “require” him to do his dishes. But, really, his dishes usually consisted of a coffee cup, a bowl, a spoon and rarely, a pan with greasy taco meat and a taco meat encrusted plate. It was when the girlfriend visited and “graciously” cooked dinner that things got way out of control. My control. And, bless her heart, she had strict parents, and a curfew, so after dinner was “quality time”, which didn’t consist of “you wash, I’ll dry”, so every dish, pot and pan I owned were strewn across the kitchen. If, as on one or two rare occasions, the dishes were done, they were just placed into the dishwasher, un-rinsed and crusted with food. Our dishwasher was, really, only a dish sterilizer, and that I even doubted. You had to completely wash the dishes before washing the dishes or you’d have to re-wash the dishes. And then, there was the china and the crystal and all the cast iron and all those things that just don’t go in the dishwasher. You guessed it, they’d end up in the dishwasher and I’d cringe. And apologize to my dishes in the morning. I don’t know which was worse, when she didn’t do the dishes or when she did. Either way, I was doing the dishes, for the first time, or again. And I don’t know who taught her how to stir, but it looked to me like she tossed everything like green salad. All over the stove. All over the countertops.  All over the floor. And guess who ended up cleaning all this up because she couldn’t stand it? Or because she needed a pan or a plate or a clean stove to cook with. Me. They’ve broken up now, which is sad, of course. And I hope some day, when he is ready, my son finds a nice girl to settle down with who knows how to do dishes. My way.

My son moved out to live with some college kids. Thankfully. We were good roommates, but it is better for him to be with peers, having a college experience. So, I moved home, with Mom, who is nearly ninety and needs a little help around the house. But not with dishes. Mom has her way with dishes and, by golly, they’ve changed dramatically since I was a kid. Now, the dishwasher has to be loaded in a very specific way. She loads in a painstaking manner so unloading it will be easier. What she fails to understand is that, either way, you’re spending about the same amount of effort and time. If it takes considerable effort to load the dishwasher in a very specific manner, it takes less time to unload it. On the other hand, if you just toss the dishes in in any old manner, it takes no time to load it but more time to unload. It’s all the same in the end. This was the logic I tried to apply to my friend and her tyrannical dishwasher-loading tempest many years ago. And, truthfully, I get it now. When it comes to silverware. Categorizing the silverware going into the dishwasher makes unloading it so much easier, you can do it in a couple of handfuls. But applying this method to plates and bowls, which you generally unload one or two at a time anyway, I still don’t get. Do you? But, this is her home, so I play along. Besides, she is hard of hearing and any kind of conversation is difficult enough and if I start to talk about dishes we get off topic on fishes, or wishes, or things that are suspicious. Sigh.

Now I have a wonderful man in my life. Funny, or not, my man is so much like my mom it is almost creepy. Oh, he hears well enough, but he enjoys watching the news. And he has very strong dishwashing preferences. When it comes to dishes, there are definite boundaries. I respect that. If only I had a diagram, though. His dishwasher is his pride, his joy and his kingdom. The plates face this way, the bowls that way and the silverware goes in exactly according to the instructions supplied by the folks who translated the instructions from Chinese into English. I’m cool with that. Just tell me how and I’m happy to do. The funny thing is, since his dishwasher is the shiz, thou shalt not rinse thy dish before placing in thy washer. I struggle with this. I actually feel remorse when I get busted rinsing a dish before placing it precisely so in the dishwasher. Every dishwasher I have ever encountered required the dishes be completely washed, or pressure washed, or maybe just rinsed really, really well, or at least swished a little, under running water. And, bless his heart, as I was doing dishes last week, upon inquiry from the neighbor, I heard him say something about “trying to be more tolerant” of the whole dish thing when others offer to do dishes. I should pay closer attention, I am happy to do the dishes, but I prefer there be peace and harmony in the dishwasher kingdom. I need a flowchart. This is a man who, among other many other things, is an ace in the kitchen, who not only knows who Jacques Pepin is but loves Jacques Pepin and who doesn’t keep a dirty dish brush behind the faucet, but, rather, a clean dish brush in a beautiful, dedicated, ceramic bowl next to the sink. A man who distrusts sponges as much as I do. A man with a container of butter next to the stove for sautéing. A man who will run the dishwasher when all the wine glasses are dirty but the plate rack is still empty. Did I mention I am in love?

So, how is it that we are all so different when it comes to dishes? We are either anal retentive, militant, dish overlords, or we simply don’t see the need to ever cleanse the implements with which we prepare and serve food? Somehow, we even have generational differences. And dishwashing habits can actually cause relationship rifts and can contribute to irreconcilable differences. How does this happen? Are there therapists and psychoanalysts for dishwashing? Should we all just use paper plates? Or perhaps embrace a more minimalist and environmentally responsible mode; a spork and a bowl and one cast iron Dutch oven in every kitchen. The recipe for contentment. How will we ever find peace, harmony, tolerance, understanding, acceptance and the ability to coexist in this world if we can’t even agree on how, or whether, the forks should go into the dishwasher? Is there hope for the kitchen? Is there hope for the world? I don’t know, but I’m hungry. I think I’ll microwave leftovers from the restaurant to avoid having to do dishes tonight. I seek peace.

Plates this way. Bowls that way. Knives, handle down, here, forks, tines down, there ... Slimy sponge and scrubber properly caged and out of sight (wring them out as soon as cycle ends, though)
Plates this way. Bowls that way. Knives, handle down, here, forks, tines down, there … Slimy sponge and scrubber properly caged and out of sight (wring them out as soon as cycle ends, though)
Top rack, a suitable home for the dish brush. Always clean and out of sight.
Top rack, a suitable home for the dish brush. Always clean and out of sight.
No brush behind the faucet = no miasma in hard to clean area.
No brush behind the faucet = no miasma in hard to clean area.

Scarlett’s Letter July 10, 2013

When I woke up I was in bed, not the truck , and it was late morning. The salmon saga was to continue. There were two large coolers full of fresh caught, wild red salmon. Have you priced this in the stores lately? Precious, fresh caught, wild, red salmon. A valuable commodity that took an incredible amount of time and effort to obtain. We needed to be sure it was all taken care of as quickly as possible to maintain its freshness.

As we pulled the first fish out of the cooler it was still in rigor mortis. A good sign. Once this stage has passed, the freshness has already deteriorated. Did you know that? So, how fresh are the chunks of cellophane wrapped fish you buy at the market? Or the super expensive ones, on ice, in the fish case? Or the “flash frozen” filets you buy by the bag out of the freezer case at Target? The ones that you pay extra for because the label says “fresh caught wild salmon?” They’re stiff only because they’re nearly frozen. Or are frozen. Or they aren’t stiff at all. I promise you, they aren’t still in rigor mortis and aren’t as fresh as the fish we unloaded from the cooler onto the kitchen island today. What a rare treat for a suburban, Cali-Girl, Whole Foods shopper! And I live near the coast. I still can’t buy fish this fresh.

We enlisted the help of the neighbor which made the work much more fun and much more efficient. Of course wine and music were involved! The work, itself, consisting of fileting some of the salmon and putting them in freezer bags for freezing. Fileting salmon is a skill and one I didn’t personally take on. Just yet. I did observe and even took a video so I could do it, if I had to, on my own, some day. Just in case the opportunity to fish for salmon presents itself when I return to California, or return, again, to Alaska. Which it will. And which I will. In fileting a salmon, everything is preserved and used. The fins are often given to friends with sled dogs to be incorporated into their feed. The “backs”, so, the spine and ribs, are placed in another bag for later enjoyment. A real treat, and considered almost a delicacy by those who have had them before. I, personally, could eat salmon, in any form, just about everyday, and I actually come pretty close. I eat small portions, so one of these fish would probably last me about twelve meals. I think. We froze some larger portions and some smaller portions. I am, in fact, enjoying, at this very moment, some salmon strips I brought home with me. I like them more than Oreos, I swear, and have been known to just stand with the Ziploc bag and eat one after the other until they’re all gone. They are a treat that don’t last long and should be savored and rationed, but I just can’t seem to help myself. Nom, nom, nom!

We also “jarred” some fish, this actually being the preferred salmon of many. When “jarring” salmon, the common practice is to leave the skin and bones intact, providing calcium and other nutrients with the fish. The fish is cut and placed into canning jars, a little salt added, sometimes some jalapeños, too, for a little kick. The jars of fish are then prepared for canning and pressure cooked for an hour and half. You can eat the salmon, as is, out of the jar, or use it for salmon recipes or sandwich filling. Good stuff! Really, it may not seem like “canned” fish with the bones and the skin would be very appetizing, but it is fantastic! And it makes for the very best salmon sandwiches you’ve ever eaten, not at all like buying canned salmon at the grocery store, this actually has taste and texture and nutritive value with minimal processing.

As focused as I am on the food I eat, the number of processes any food I consume goes through, the nutritive value, the quality, the source, the handling, the purity, etc., being able to see the fish caught, cleaned and “processed” was a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. One of the things I so appreciate about Alaska and the people, is their reverence for food and the amount of time, effort and dedication that goes into catching, hunting, growing and gathering much of the food they will depend on for the long, dark winter. Brief is the summer and the long days of daylight. Every waking moment, and there are more waking moments in those long hours of daylight, is devoted to preparing for the long winter cold. And yet, there is joy and fun and fellowship in all that is accomplished. There are ample opportunities for recreation and adventure because that is as much a part of life and preparing for the winter months as the sun is to the summer. I am in awe and have so much admiration and respect for this way of life.

For lunch, as we waited for the first batch of jars to pressure cook, fish backs were fried up, with much anticipation by everyone, and a little trepidation by me. They smelled delicious, of course, and when done are eaten much like corn on the cob. You pull the salmon meet gingerly off the rib bones and spine with your teeth, and, truly, there is nothing like it. Nom, nom, nom! I could eat these all day. For the sake of modesty, I think I quit at four.

We continued jarring the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Dinnertime rolled around and, again, salmon backs were fried up! I couldn’t be happier! Salmon, wine, friends, music, and a task to keep the hands busy. To some, a day of cutting up fish, bagging and jarring it, then eating the scraps, may sound like penance for some misdeed. Until you’ve actually been involved in the process, from start to finish, I don’t think you can ever truly appreciate the joy that comes from “farm to table”, as we like to call it in Cali, from source to supply. Bon apetit!

 

A cooler full of the freshest fish ever!
A cooler full of the freshest fish ever!
Rigor motris! Yes!
Rigor motris! Yes!
Filet of fish. Not McDonalds style.
Filet of fish. Not McDonalds style.
Jars.
Jars.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Preparing fish for jarring.
Patience.
Patience.
Fried fish backs! Nom! Nom! Nom!
Fried fish backs! Nom! Nom! Nom!

An Effort to Evolve

All done! Jarred salmon! Yum!
All done! Jarred salmon! Yum!

Scarlett’s Letter July 9, 2013

When first planning this trip to Alaska, our hope was to be able to go gillnetting for king salmon on the Yukon River. We planned dates around the likely opportunity for this adventure. As an Alaska resident, my man is entitled a specific number of different species of fish as “subsistence”. I’m not a resident, and am not so entitled, and fishing for salmon for me may either not be allowed, may be catch and release only, or prohibited altogether, depending on numbers. Last year, for example, the kind salmon numbers were lower than usual, and as they come up the Yukon from the sea, Canada is “guaranteed” a certain number of fish, so Alaska has to make sure there are adequate numbers of fish to meet that obligation and provide for healthy spawning for future generations of fish. Last year, the king salmon fishing on the Yukon was brief and severely limited. This year ended up being the same. Hopefully, next year, the numbers will rebound.

For many years, my man has gone to “fish camp”, a place along the Yukon where there are “cabins” and other somewhat primitive resources for subsistence fisher people. I planned to go to “fish camp” on the airboat with my man and a former neighbor of his, a dear elderly man of ailing health. The elderly man has only been “allowed” to go to “fish camp” in recent years because his wife trusted he would be in good hands with my man. This year, sadly, the elderly man’s health has deteriorated to the point where he would not have been able to go to “fish camp” at all.

On top of all of this, the regulations had changed as to the size of gill net that could be used. Again. Apparently, seven-inch nets (I presume that means the openings in the net) were the standard for all of time. In recent years, the fish and game folks changed that regulation to six and a half inch nets and provided a monetary allowance for retrofitting existing nets, which my man took advantage of. Now, the regulation has been changed to six-inch nets and there isn’t an allowance available for retrofitting existing nets. I have never seen a gill net, but they are quite expensive and there really isn’t an option for buying a new, compliant net this year.

With the freezer fast being depleted of salmon, and “fish camp” not being likely, we had to come up with another solution to stock up for another year. There were red salmon, but fishing for them, too, was being carefully monitored and controlled. With a seven hour drive, each way, 80 gallons of gas and likely more than twenty four hours of driving, fishing and driving involved, there was much to consider. The limit was fifteen for subsistence, and this early in the season there would be only “wild” fish, being somewhat smaller in size than the hatchery fish. Economically, this really wasn’t a practical means for restocking the freezer. Eighty gallons of gas at four dollars a gallon, so, three hundred twenty dollars just in gas, for fifteen smaller fish, that’s twenty-one bucks a fish. I can do better at Whole Foods three thousand miles away.

This morning, though, with a quick call in to the fish and game hotline, the limit had been increased for the next twenty-four hours to twenty-five. Now we’re talking twelve dollars and eighty cents per fish. Now we’re talking! Now the math works out a bit better. We mobilized quickly. A fast shower, gathered gear, packed extra clothes, I slapped some sandwiches together, we grabbed some beer and some fruit, put the “sleeper” on the old blue Ford truck, gassed up, grabbed a couple more sandwiches at the gas station and headed south to the Copper River at Chitina.

The road trip southward was punctuated with rain, which, according to the weather resources, was not supposed to be happening. We would be arriving at Chitinia late in the evening and would likely “dip net” all night, rain or not, until the limit was caught, and then, depending on time and the level of fatigue, we’d head home or sleep over, or head home and sleep along the way. Rain was not going to be pleasant while dip netting. And, truthfully, I had not included in my suitcase what I would consider appropriate attire for a rainy adventure. I have piles of “technical clothing” for virtually every outdoor situation, but, I just didn’t have room in my two suitcases for such practicalities. I had shoes. And tank tops. And glittery ass jeans.  So I packed layers. Layers and layers of really cute, not very warm, jewel, glitter and sequins bedazzled clothes. There must be some sort of redeeming benefit to jewels, glitter and sequins in outdoor survival situations, I just can’t find any sources on Google. Yet. As a non-resident, again, I would not be able to actually dip net for fish, but I would be assisting in many ways, and true to my nature, though I may act and appear as a girly girl, high maintenance city girl, I am not. So not.

After many hours, we approached Chitina, and though somewhat cloudy and threatening and very windy, it was not raining. We planned to, as my man usually had in the past, hike up O’Brien Creek a ways and find a back eddy to dip from. As we arrived at the confluence of O’Brien Creek and the Copper River we saw, or I saw a magnificent sight, something so memorable and awe inspiring I can barely describe it befitting it’s glory; a purple and lime green espresso stand lashed to a skid, there to capitalize on the fisher people, or their girly girl, high maintenance city girl girlfriends. I was delighted, as I’d made no provision for morning caffeine other than the one Excedrin left in the bottle I carry in my purse at all times for just such emergencies. How I was down to just one, likely expired Excedrin, I don’t know. Measures that must be taken, just in case I am forced to survive a coffee-less morning. Second, we were met by folks who said “everyone” was catching their limit within a few short hours right there at the confluence. We looked at the shore of the Copper River, just beyond the parking lot and the espresso stand, and sure enough, there were multiple people dip-netting there. And they were hauling fish in.

While adventure is wonderful, and I probably had a compromised experience by not going up the creek, our mission was fishin’, and in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort possible. Hopefully before it rained again. So, we walked the short walk to the shore at the edge of the parking lot, claimed our spot along the bank, and my man started dipping the net into the river. The wind was strong and the muddy current was treacherous, the river was swift and wide. One misstep and you’d be swept away and likely drown, or die of hypothermia before you washed ashore again miles downstream. The net goes in, is swept along the shore, and drawn out, fighting the force of the river with every dip. If a salmon is swimming upstream and enters the net, the net has to be hauled in, against the current and now laden with a good-sized fish. This was not easy work. Neither is finding a parking spot at Whole Foods, but this is a whole new level of effort for good salmon.

It wasn’t long before one fish was netted, and with that, a lesson, for me, in how to behead, detail and gut the fish, wash it, bag it and put it on ice. I knew I’d be involved in the process, I guess I was only a little startled, at first, with just how “in depth” my involvement would be. About elbow deep in fish blood and guts, to be exact. But no worries, if you eat ‘em, you’d better be ready to clean ‘em. My man is a great teacher, and quite patient, especially with me, as I always seem to have a bit of a “learning curve”. I am always eager to help and eager to learn, in all things I am involved in. I think it is my eagerness that is the root of my “learning curve”. I listen, I watch and I’ll ask for clarification, and I just want to succeed. Immediately. But I will almost always botch up a time or two before I get it. This was no different. I cut the head off a bit awkwardly on the first couple of fish. My man cut it like butter, I felt like I was sawing a hardwood log with a dull saw. The fish looked like he got his head caught in machinery, not cleanly severed with a sharp filet knife. I managed to cut and twist the tail off and it reminded me of trying to cut through really stale Red Vines with those dull, rounded tip, safety scissors they made us use in kindergarten. Slitting the fish up the gut was where I really went wrong. I held the knife like a dagger, clutched in a white-knuckle clench, and I stabbed away at the fish like Jack the Ripper with the prostitutes of London. Which was wrong. How did he do this with so much ease, finesse and grace? I’m thinking, “man, I gotta do more push ups!” I massacred the first two fish I was left in charge of. And so, I asked to watch on the next, one more demonstration, a little closer observation, a bit more clarification and I learned that the slit up the gut was done shallow and sort of gingerly, like Julia Child cutting phyllo dough or something. I got it, and the rest of the fish were cut perfectly, head, tail and gut. I became a fishing beheading, detailing, gutting machine. He would catch and club, I’d retrieve, slice, slice twist, cut, cut, twist and then slit, hold tight, wash in the river, bag, and then run bags with three to four fish back up to the truck where we had big ice chests waiting. The sooner the fish was “bled out” and put on ice the better the finished product would be. So, as soon as the fish hit the shore and got whacked in the head with a stick, I retrieved it to do my duty. Now, let’s talk about the actual murder weapon; the stick. There isn’t much quality wood on the ground around here, most of it having been scavenged and used already. So, when asked to find a “stick”, what was in order was something with a certain amount of heft, density and weight, what I found was really not much more than a piece of driftwood. After a good whack or two to the head, I’m pretty sure the salmon was only slightly phased on not actually dead. At that point, I’m to cut its head off with a filet knife. I found myself talking to the fish. Really. Kind of apologetically explaining what I had to do. “I know you’re not dead, but I’m going to lay you down on this terribly bloody, slimy piece of plywood, which in itself, if you think about it, is disgusting. Don’t think about it. Then, I’m going to take this filet knife that is about five fish past being sharp enough and I’m going to quickly cut your head off, one side at a time. I have to measure the angle, from just under your fin, along the gill, to the top of your head, which, oddly enough, reminds me of how I use a brow pencil to find the arch for my eyebrows, carefully lining it up with the corner of my nostril to the center of where my pupil is when looking straight ahead. Then I’ll flip you over and do it again. And somehow, you’re still trying to escape my grasp, so I’m going to try to cut your tail off. I have to turn you precisely like this and cut like this, the flip you over again and repeat. Then twist. I’m going to throw your head, attached guts and tail into the river for your family to watch float by, which, I’m pretty sure is why the rate at which we’re catching fish is beginning to decline. I mean, really, if you saw your cousin’s disembodied head, guts and tail go sailing past would you really venture in the general direction from whence they came? Yah, me either. “ Yes, I’m still talking to the fish.

On my first trip back to the truck, bag of fish in hand, I was met by a nice man a few vehicles down. I must have looked like a fru-fru coffee sort of girl, maybe like a girly girl, high maintenance city girl who would want a skinny no whip half-caf dirty latte at some point in the morning. He was the espresso stand vendor and wanted me to know that he’d be open at 4:30 AM. I was elated and had visions of a hot cup of black coffee before hitting the road home, hopefully after a few hours of sleep. That was at about 7:30 PM.

During a brief lull my man pointed out the “gulls” just up stream from us. I’d seen the seagulls, but not the ea-gulls. There were two bald eagles helping the one thousand seagulls take care of the fish scraps that had been left behind by the many fisherfolk before us. I have never seen bald eagles in the wild, until this trip, now I’m up to five. Wow. Every time I see one that’s all I can say. Wow. I grabbed my camera, and as soon as I set one foot in the direction of the “gulls”, they eagles took to the wind and gracefully floated, against the wind, up the canyon. No picture, no proof, but I swear it to be true.

Five hours later, we’d caught our limit of twenty-five, with no rain. It was about 1:00 AM and we were exhausted. My man, more than me, having driven and then dipping for five straight hours, with blisters on his hands and fatigued muscles from such hard, steady labor. He is my hero.

I had visions of bundling up and getting some rest, me in the sleeper, which only fits one, my man on the bench seat of the truck, or vice versa. I was willing to give up the comfort of the sleeper to my hero. But, no, the plan was to hit the road and get back home, or as close as possible, before getting sleep. No espresso stand hot black coffee at 4:30 AM. Damn.

We headed out in near darkness, which was interesting, being further south and experiencing darkness to the point of having to turn the headlights on. Experiencing darkness for the first time in, like, two weeks, like it is totally foreign to me. But it seemed so. We stopped at “The Hub” and I bought three large cups of gas station coffee, two for my man, one for me, so I could stay awake and keep him awake. Fail. I didn’t realize I slept quite that much, but, come to think of it, the drive home did seem much quicker. I felt like I was awake for all the really important stuff, like seeing moose. Twenty-six of them in a ten-mile stretch. I think I’m Andy Rouse with my little digital Sony camera I bought at Times Square one trip to New York, on impulse, when my iPhone battery died at 10:00 in the morning. I’m actually trying to photograph moose on the side of the road with my point and shoot camera from a pickup truck doing sixty. “No, that brown blur is a tree, that one is a late model Subaru, that brown blur is a bald eagle. THAT one is the moose.” So, brilliance, I have my helmet camera with me. But no helmet. But, really, what would you say if you saw some chick, wearing a helmet, with a camera attached to it, slumped over and snoring in the passenger seat of a speeding pickup, clutching the biggest cup of cold gas station coffee a dollar and a half can buy? Right? Best I don’t have a helmet. So, for those brief, lucid moments, I hold the helmet camera up, roll down the window, stick the camera out the window while the truck slows to forty and hope for a better result. “No, really, the rack on that moose was over fifty! The moose is that thing you can almost see move between those two trees, behind that one rock, down that embankment. Close your left eye, you’ll be able to see it better.”

And so it was with the remainder of the trip home. A blur. Like the moose in my pictures. A blur. And then I woke up to two coolers full of salmon (the salmon saga continues tomorrow, which is already today, but in another letter).

The Painted Mountains
The Painted Mountains
The espresso stand!! <3
The espresso stand!! <3
All geared up
All geared up
The first catch
The first catch
My job
My job
Still baggin' fish
Still baggin’ fish
Like the moose in this picture, the drive home was a bit of a blur!
Like the moose in this picture, the drive home was a bit of a blur!

Scarlett’s Guide to Turning Fifty

Scarlett’s Guide to Turning Fifty

Today is my birthday. I’m fifty. I don’t feel fifty, so I’m not going to act fifty. I refuse to join AARP. But, I am taking a few moments, today, to reflect on the secrets to a golden life, as it should be. I have compiled a list that summarizes my outlook from near the top of the hill. I’m on the incline, still, in case you’re wondering. I’ll let you know when I summit, though I might be lollygagging a bit to avoid that. The only downhills I like are roller coasters, ski slopes (I board them, though), and when cycling. Party on.

My list, in no particular order:

  1. Sleep in every once in a rare while. You probably need it.
  1. Eat waffles and drink mimosas.
  1. Wear mismatched, loud colors, florals and animal prints. All at once, if you prefer.
  1. Use punctuation and check your spelling and grammar. Please set a good example for the “texting” generation. Thank you.
  1. Thank everyone individually on Facebook for birthday greetings. We, well, maybe THEY, are getting older, after all.
  1. Hug everyone you know and maybe even a few you don’t.
  1. See the world.
  1. Be loud, shocking, and endearingly vulgar. Hear me roar, I’m a woman of experience. This is okay only as long as people are genuinely laughing. At the first hint of discomfort or fake laughing, ratchet it down one notch.
  1. Take lots of pictures of yourself. Only delete the ones where you are chewing, have something between your front teeth or where your eyes are closed. No matter how bad you think the pictures look now, in a few years you’ll look back at them and say, “Damn, I looked awesome!”
  1. Keep doing your Kegels. Your continence depends on it. And so does good sex.
  1. The cure for anything in the world, I swear, is more Moroccan oil on your hair. And a mimosa.
  1. Keep it light. You can be serious without taking things so seriously.
  1. YouTube is better than the boob-tube.
  1. Don’t burp out loud in front of anyone. It may have been funny in college, now it’s just gross.
  1. Wear lip color.
  1. Drive your kids crazy. Use their slang but pronounce it like a literature professor, with perfect, clipped, enunciation. Do this in front of their friends, if possible.
  1. Do/have your toes done in an obscene color.
  1. Hold it in. Yes, people WILL know it was you that farted.
  1. Laugh at life or it may seem like life is laughing at you.
  1. Do something memorable, regularly. Make memories worth telling stories about.
  1. Do something memorable, regularly. Like wear polka dots on Friday or red (scarlet) everyday.
  1. Be in love.
  1. Try new cuisines.
  1. Find a way to party with the younger crowd every now and then, embrace the cougar within, you can act like a cougar and not be a cougar. It’s up to you.
  1. Drink lots of water.
  1. Drink lots of wine.
  1. Eat lots of veggies.
  1. Source information before you trust it.
  1. Make some noise. You are wiser than you think. Speak up.
  1. But, you don’t know everything, so listen up.
  1. Squats. Lots. Enough said.
  1. Make the news, don’t watch the news.
  1. Eggs are a superfood. Ice cream is a superfood. Chocolate is a superfood. Butter is the super-est food.
  1. Write it down.
  1. Wear ALL of your jewelry, NOW. What are you saving it for? It’d be nice for everyone to see it a time or two before your open casket viewing.
  1. Learn something new. Exercise is important for the brain, too.
  1. An extra coat of mascara is always a good idea.
  1. Don’t sit so much.
  1. Do push-ups, your arms and your boobies (or moobs, depending on your gender) will make you look younger than you are. Chaturangas are good too, if you’re a yogi.
  1. On your birthday, spend a little more than you should, drink a little more than you should, eat a little more than you should. Atone tomorrow; back to work, eating, drinking, sleeping, and exercising responsibly. Dress however you want from here on out, though.
  1. Call people “dude”.
  1. Enjoy flowers. Enjoy art. Enjoy music. That’s what they’re there for.
  1. Um, eyebrows? You should have some, like two, and they should be shaped. Professionally.
  1. Run for your life.
  1. Sing. Out loud. And off key.
  1. Stairs. Always.
  1. Life is short; buy all the shoes you want and go ahead and get the ones that make you say ” oooOOOooo!”  when you see them.
  1. Worth repeating; you simply cannot do too many push-ups, squats, or Kegels. Time is running out, do them simultaneously, maybe even while in line at Whole Foods.
  1. Stabilization balls are fun.
  1. And for God’s sake, whiten your teeth.

Scarlett’s Letter July 7, 2013

Another day fishing in Alaska, another lesson learned.

While at the pig roast, also known as Olaf’s Debut, we chatted with a young man who was an avid fisherman and hunter (I just described most people I’ve met in Alaska). His young, pregnant wife is equally the outdoorsperson, too. We chatted with them about our pike fishing escapade, the one without any pike. The young man told us of a “great” place to pike fish, a lake, suspiciously called “Brown Lake” just off the road to Manly, Alaska (got to love that name). He said he’d caught lots of pike there and we could easily launch the airboat for greater access to shoreline. He gave us very precise directions, which we verified to a map.

This was our plan for today. To go to Brown Lake, launch the airboat and catch our limit of fighting, big pike to fill the freezer with. We drove the nearly seventy miles, dragging the airboat obediently behind us. We counted the mile markers carefully and looked for the short dirt road to the lake, but found none, only roads to gravel pits. We flagged down one passing truck and asked for information. Yes, you heard me correctly, I have a man who will happily ask directions. A man who will always ask directions even if just to confirm information he already has. So refreshing. We turned around and looked, turned around again and looked. We flagged down an even less helpful truckload of folks and continued looking. We did finally find the right dirt road, a little closer to the turnoff than we thought based on the very “precise” directions we’d received.

We made our way down the road to find the lake, exactly as described, except for the “boat launch” part. There were pallets laid across soggy ground, a large pit in which a truck would sink, and very spongy, soggy, marshy ground everywhere else. Not easily deterred, we set to figuring out how we were going to get the boat on the water so we could catch all these fish.

We decided (actually, I wasn’t so involved because I’m really not all that helpful in situations like this) to just pull the boat off the trailer, onto the dirt, and drive it over the ground to the lake. Airboats are special like that.

The next problem arose when we discovered the boat was wedged onto the trailer and it took some ingenuity and brute strength to dislodge it. Again, not easily deterred. The next problem, the exhaust pipe was broken and needed to be re-welded AND we didn’t have baling wire with us. No problem, a tie down, applied creatively, held things together. Again, not easily deterred. We unloaded the truck, parked it and I stood aside while the boat was driven over the soggy, uneven ground, to the lake. I clambered aboard and off we went.

The lake looked like excellent pike habitat, from what I’ve been told, anyway. There was tall grass all around the shore where they’d likely be hiding. The lake was very, very, very shallow. Shallow looking, anyway, with weeds and slime growing less than a foot below the surface. The trick, though, is that the weeds and slime were probably, themselves, four feet deep. And not good pike habitat. Or so I’ve been told. We cruised around, looking for deeper water and found just a little. All the while, noticing that we were the only people on the lake, one, and that there were a lot of bugs on the water, two, and no fish, of any type, jumping, three. As we skirted the lake, we failed to “spook” any fish. Were the fish in this lake extraordinarily brave? Or just absent? We looked for the “inlet” where the water would be feeding into the lake, and found none. To me, at first, this was just “whatever”, but what it actually means, in Alaska, is this; shallow lakes freeze solid (this being a shallow lake). Fish don’t survive being frozen solid. When break up happens and the snow melts the lake becomes liquid again, but, unless water is flowing in from somewhere where fish are, the lake will be “fishless”. And this is what we broke our necks and devoted our day to boating on, a “fishless” lake. No pike. No fish.

We headed back to shore, drove the boat back up on land, and winched it onto the trailer. We headed home, which, I’ve discovered, if there are fishing poles in the car and daylight to be had, which in July is obviously the case, the drive home is going to be punctuated with fishing. We fished every stream, every trickle, every puddle of water we crossed between there and here. Almost. I, determined as I am, not easily deterred, practiced fly-fishing, and yes, even caught one. My form may suck, and I may not have the rigid wrist action I should, yet, but, dammit, I caught a grayling, all by myself, and of legal size.

So, the lesson for the day; do not be easily deterred. Obstacles and difficulties happen. It is okay to ask for directions, for clarification when needed, and, sometimes you just have to find a way to “launch the boat”. Whatever undertaking we are facing, we will have to meet it with a certain amount of knowledge, common sense, information, tenacity, determination and brute strength to see if it is going to prove successful. And if it doesn’t prove successful, we will have learned something, and, hopefully, will be able to find an alternate solution. One way or another, we were coming home with some kind of fish for dinner. It was delicious.

Plan B fish for dinner after a day of fishing in a fishless lake.
Plan B fish for dinner after a day of fishing in a fishless lake.