Currently living/working: Petsitting/Writing/Virtual Library Presentations/Cleaning. That’s basically the summary of our work this month—a little of everything, but a lot of staring into the glowing screen.
Current mood: This month, we spent an amazing 8 days in Hawaii (blog posts coming), where we eschewed the to-do list and stayed out of touch with calendars and deadlines, existing in a timeless void. So of course our Zen switch has been flipped. Plus, we are up to nearly 7 hours of daylight per day now in Alaska!!! And the ball of sun shines in our window for a few minutes each day!!! Who can complain??
Current confession: Hawaii is a very expensive coping strategy for evading the doldrums of Alaska’s sunless sky and bitter cold. It is not sustainable to think we can vacation every year there!! Note to selves: “Do Not Book a Hawaii Vacation No Matter How Cheap Airfare Is During Alaska Airlines’ Fall Sale!” Everything else in Hawaii is wicked expensive …
Currently regretting: Can I say not discovering and investing in a place in Hawaii 20 years ago?? Justin’s grandparents bought a house and lived on Oahu in the 1950s for $15,000 … that same house just sold for $2 million! (Justin’s grandma would have been 99 just the other day 🙁
Current guilty pleasure: Compared with last winter’s epic and record 170 inches of snowfall, our amounts this year have been pitiful. However, late January has been delivering some powder. Thankfully, we finally invested in a snowblower (one of our smartest Alaskan purchases), so we are equipped for it.
Currently not excited for: Winter is a slower pace work-wise for us, which is a good time to scheme up new ideas as well as complete all those unsexy tasks I put off (i.e., accounting prep for taxes, aka, the bane of my existence). I always feel like I have an audacious indoor/winter to-do list since I have long and luxuriously free days. My list can accommodate anything I dream of!! But wow, ever notice how everything expands to fill the time? That’s how I feel right now…feeling the crunch of time to prioritize and complete all the things.
Currently proud of: In the ever-evolving business model that we follow for our income streams, we’ve added a new thing: virtual library presentations. It started as part of book promotion for Between Each Step, as I was requesting different libraries to carry my book, and one strategy is to offer a corresponding program (“Exploring New Zealand”). Which is how we ended up doing 7 such programs in 2022. Well, a few of the libraries said they’d be interested in any other programs we had available, so we’ve started offering “Life in the Last Frontier: Alaska.” We did our first presentation for Somerset County Library in NJ this week, and have a second lined up for Warren County NJ in March. Hoping to expand our offering to other libraries through 2023 and into 2024! (If anyone knows their local library offers virtual programming, let us know.)
Currently excited for: Speaking of jobs and libraries, I have a new one: substitute librarian! Our town’s library was looking for someone this winter, and even though I scoffed at Justin when he said I should apply, I realized what a good fit it was for me. Here’s a little known secret: I worked at my college library through my 4 years and get so much satisfaction and joy from re-shelving books (type A shining through). Anyway, it’s only a day or 2 each month, so perfect for my erratic schedule. (Side note: I had issues with the locks on my first day this month and accidentally closed the library early, but I’m still employed).
Not to leave Justin out, but he is pretty stacked with new writing assignments! In order to keep up his gear junkie status, he is always pursuing new media outlets for gear coverage. Right now he is juggling quite a few of those, but one of them includes Outdoors.com, a partnership with Bear Gryllis. Pretty cool!
Currently amazed by: Most people don’t realize that what you can eat with Crohn’s is always individualized, and can change over time. Justin has been in a constant food experiment since his flare up and first surgery in 2016. Poor guy has made so many sacrifices over the years! And now that he’s been in remission since 2021, we’ve been trying to distinguish dietary sensitivities from disease red flags. If there’s any bright side to his abdominal surgery in September 2022, it’s that it offered a “reset” for his intestines (that’s what the surgeons always say). The last few months, we made a few more tweaks to Justin’s diet. Can he incorporate red meat again? Eggs again? How much fiber can his body handle? Etc, etc, etc. It’s entirely frustrating because it’s a delicate balance as to what works and what will send him to the outhouse to pass a paint can’s of rusty liquid (TMI, I know, but I’m all about being real). But somehow, Justin just sucks it up and lives with his broken body. He deserves tons of credit!
Currently worried about: The tradeoff to our freelance life is buying our own health insurance. I was pleasantly surprised at the low costs for our 2022 marketplace plan, including the monthly premium (thanks to the income-dependent stipend), deductible ($600) and out-of-pocket family maximum ($1500). However, I’m a tad nervous to see how the marketplace stipend will play out with our taxes. For 2023, I opted to take the whole stipend again, and the deductible ($2400) and out-of-pocket family maximum ($4400) more than doubled, so you can see how fun it is to navigate this crap. #adultingsucks
Currently thankful for: We had a slight issue with our truck this month (sensors & systems in these newer vehicles don’t really respond well to the cold). Anyway, it ended up being covered by our warranty and there was a cancellation at the Chevy dealership for service, so we were able to line up an appointment conveniently when we were in Hawaii!
Currently reading: 3.25 books this month!
I read Drawn There: The Art of Bikepacking by Mike Shisler. This book was a big surprise because I thought it was just going to be an art coffee table book (which is great in itself), but it’s actually a short travel memoir. Mike biked 4,000 miles from Prudoe Bay, AK, to his home in southern CA. It took him 40 days, and he stopped at our place to camp in late June. We met Mike back in our “van life” days, as he and his wife Jess, spent years living on the road in a van. Anyway, back to the book. Mike traveled with a sketchbook to capture watercolor art of the landscapes as he was biking. Obviously, Mike’s journey is an inspiration, but his art from the journey added a unique element to the story.
But it was the story that surprised and drew me in. I knew the outcome, but there were so many more details that Mike described that don’t make social media reel and I loved every word. He can add writing to his list of talents! Furthermore, as an Alaskan, I appreciated his observations as an outsider passing through. He actually perfectly depicted the idiosyncrasies of living remotely and within an unpeopled wilderness. If you equally respect an amazing adventure story and art, this book hits the mark. (Just became available on Amazon!) We put it in our rental house for guests to enjoy.
A friend from New Hampshire gifted me Dan Szczesny’s The White Mountain. The book wasn’t even on my radar, but I’m glad he alerted me to it. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but Justin & I lived in New Hampshire for 4 years, so I knew I’d probably dig the subject matter. What a unique concept: a year in the life of Mount Washington, New Hampshire’s highest point. Dan did everything there is to do on Mount Washington—painting with our friend Byron Carr, snowcoach ride to summit as a volunteer cook for the observatory crew, invasive species (dandelion) picking, the cog railway, the foot race, and more. His storytelling is magnetic and colorful, and now I’ve added his other books to my list!
Our friend in Healy (Lloyd Fink) wrote a book about his 2013 AT thru hike called Hiking to Beer. His day-by-day adventure tale certainly had us reminiscing about our 2011 AT thru hike, and it’s like talking directly to Lloyd and hearing his stories with all his normal animation and enthusiasm. It’s inspirational because Lloyd used the hike as a kickstart to give up beer and lose a bunch of weight!
I’ve been advised that Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is the type of book you savor, so I started it in January, and plan to read it slowly over the winter in between other books. It’s not a story, but detailed observations to make you reflect. I usually don’t love books like this, but this was a gift, and it received high praise from many people. So far, I do love the way the author conveys the subject matter of how we connect to nature.
Currently watching on Netflix/Hulu/HBO Max/Starz/AMC: I’m kinda embarrassed to admit this, but we are streaming Below Deck, a super cheesy reality TV series about deck hands and stews (housekeeping) on private yachts. Justin discovered it on our flights to/from Hawaii, then realized it streams via Peacock. We’ll get back to more serious streaming (Season 5 of Yellowstone) as soon as it’s available to us.