This world. This place. This life.

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How was the road trip?

We’ve been home for two and a half weeks, and we’re still settling back in.

A few days after we got back to Girdwood, Liesl came down with the flu, which changed the math around here. Instead of two adults taking care of a baby and a dog, it was one adult taking care of a sick person, a baby and a dog. Now that she’s mostly on the mend, we’re making progress on the daunting, never-ending task of bringing order to our 1100-square-foot condo.

So, how was the road trip?

It’s a hard question to answer, because we didn’t have a clear goal when we set out.

At some point on the trip I posted on Facebook that “there, and back again,” might be the measure of this trip’s success. And we’ve done that.

It was quite an accomplishment to take the ferry from Whittier to Bellingham, and then put more than 5000 miles on the truck getting back to Alaska via the AlCan. Particularly with a baby (and a dog, for part of the trip).

But what was it for? Why did we go?

As I wrote before we went, we were stuck, and we needed to yank ourselves away from here so that we could imagine a new future for ourselves.

We did that, too.

Liesl began to see the giant boulder of grief she’s been carrying around about leaving her job, and possibly leaving Alaska. Now that she knows the boulder’s there, she can set it down once in a while.

I found space to take a chance on a new life, daydream about entrepreneurial ministry, and expand the work I’m already doing.

The trip propelled us into a liminal place. Not into a new, rooted place. A liminal place.

And we’re still there.

It’s uncomfortable.

We’d like a new house, and new careers, without all the constant questioning and considering and good god all the waiting.

We’d like a home with more room for Willa to play, with plenty of space for Brady to run around outside, with a place for Liesl and I to shut the door and remember who we are, apart from our parental roles.

We’d like for both of us to have daily work that feels meaningful, purposeful, satisfying.

We’d like to expend our energy in the present, not in planning for, imagining, and trying to get to the future.

It’s uncomfortable.

We’re restless.

We get cranky with each other. And with the dog.

But then we watch an episode of HBO’s Vice, about Sudan.

And we remember how privileged—and small—our struggle is.

We remember to be grateful for our happy baby, who has enough to eat, and a place to sleep.

It puts our search for meaning and purpose in a larger perspective.

We’re looking, not just for work that makes us feel valued, but work that actually is valuable, work that helps to make a dent, however tiny, in the terrible, terrible things that happen every day around the world, and right here in Girdwood, and wherever you are.

So that’s how our trip was.

We may be sleeping in the same place every night now, but we’re still on the road. We’ll let you know when we arrive.

If we ever do.




What can you do without?

Macina limoni

Life is different in McCarthy, Alaska.  Spend just a week there, and you start thinking differently about the magic of water, electricity and plumbing.

Each morning when we stumbled into the old hardware store that is the Wrangell Mountains Center, most of the Wild Comfort writers were looking for one thing: coffee.

If you got there early enough, you caught a glimpse behind the curtain. You saw the work that went into the elixir fueling your energy at 8:00 a.m. writing circle.

There were fifteen participants in the writing workshop, three leaders, and assorted staff. Not everyone was a coffee drinker, granted, but still, that’s a lot of coffee.  Particularly when it was available from 7:30-10:00 a.m.

Particularly since every swallow of that coffee came from beans ground by hand.

My eyes went wide that first morning, when I saw the kitchen staff grinding those beans, their arms swinging in rhythmic arcs, getting more upper body exercise in a single morning than I get in a year.

Seeing their efforts made our morning coffee even more precious.

On my last trip to the grocery store––back here in the “civilized” world––I bought whole bean coffee rather than ground. There’s something about living in Alaska that makes us coffee drinkers crave the good stuff.

I pulled my Kitchen Aid coffee grinder out of storage, and started teaching myself the right grind, and the right ratios.

Maybe it was my time in McCarthy. Maybe it was the major power outages we’ve had on both coasts lately. I started to think about non-electric options––a French press, maybe a manual grinder.

Every time we have a power outage here in Girdwood––and with our weather, they happen quite frequently––I notice how many electrical devices I depend on. In McCarthy, I had a taste life that depends more on human effort. I liked it. It felt more, well, alive.

Maybe a power outage is a wake-up call. Maybe it’s the universe’s way of saying, “What are you going to do when the power goes off for good? What are you going to do if we don’t get renewable energy before fossil fuels run out? How are you going to get your coffee then?”

(Photo by Trellina.  Used under Creative Commons license.)


299 Seats

My sweetheart needs a vacation.

Six days a week she’s at the hangar, climbing in and out of airplanes, shaping sheet metal, shooting rivets, inspecting engines.

It’s a physically demanding job, and she gives 300 percent of herself to it.

Aircraft maintenance is a male-dominated profession, and the women in the field have to work harder to prove themselves.

But that’s not her only challenge

She also uses a wheelchair, and every day has to prove wrong the “can’t do” assumptions of other people.  Her boss’s friends ask him how much he’s being paid (by the state) to employ her.  When she was looking for work a few years ago, one potential employer actually told her she’d made a “poor career choice.”

She needs a vacation, because she has to work twice as hard at everything she does, morning to night, day after day, year after year.

She needs a vacation, and not just from her job.  She needs a vacation from 30 years of paraplegia.  Thirty years of physically demanding daily living.  Thirty years of social stigma, seemingly well-meaning and otherwise.

If only there were some way for her to take a vacation from her wheelchair, a loophole in her situation that would give her a temporary out.  But there’s no such loophole.

At least not for her.

There are, however, plenty of loopholes in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That’s why, in a town with a top notch adaptive skiing program, most of the businesses are not accessible.  Her favorite restaurant has a ramp, but it’s so steep that it’s almost impossible for her to use, and they close down the ramp completely in the winter when it’s slick.

She has to work twice as hard as the rest of us, and we’re looking for loopholes, looking for ways we can do the least amount of work, spend the least amount of money.

This past week, she’s been particularly exhausted.  She doesn’t complain, so when she does, I know she’s at the end of her rope.

That’s why, when I heard this story on NPR, I was so angry.  Tucked away in an interview about how the Hollywood economy works, was this lovely nugget of information:  most theaters have 299 seats, because having 300 would trigger an ADA requirement that every row be accessible.

Do you know how many times we watch movies in the last row of the theater, because that’s the only accessible seating?

So, at the end of a long, hard week, when she just wants to see a movie to relax, she’s stuck in a crappy seat at the back of the theater—-because the theater builders and owners want to take the easy way out.

That’s just lovely.

And another reason to keep on enjoying our Netflix, with front row seats at home on the couch.