You Know You Live in Alaska When…

Hello Farmgirls,

Has spring sprung where you are? How are you doing? “March Madness” (not the “sports games” kind as Ava calls it) is almost behind us as the ever quickening addition of light to our days starts to wind down.  The Equinox to Solstice slide has begun.

Alaskan kids are lucky! Most people never get to see a glacier in real life.  These kids get to see them when they are babies, and practically out our back door.

Alaskan kids are lucky! Most people never get to see a glacier in real life. These kids get to see them when they are babies, and practically out our back door. (Maybe I’m thinking about writing, here)

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Hiatus

Farmgirls.

Hello! It’s been awhile.

Hey! It's me.  I'm back.

Hey! It’s me. I’m back.

I missed you, and I apologize for the long silence on my end.  This year has been many, many things, with one of the main things being: TOUGH! It has also been beautiful and fun and sad and boring and confirming and confusing and… all of the things.  I have a feeling many of you have had similar feelings and experiences.  After writing in April, I missed my next post and then just could not get myself to write. I thought of the readers and other Farmgirls and knew I should at least pop in to say, “Hey! I’m alive and okay!” but there was this huge mental block holding me back. I have to admit that my mental health was hanging in there, but the break from writing deadlines was necessary to keep it that way. Time kept moving on as it does, and it got to that weird place where my absence had been too long to address.  Thankfully, one of MaryJane’s dutiful employees reached out and asked if I’d be up for writing again (Thanks, B!).  Writing is one of my best outlets, and I appreciate being gently nudged back into practice.

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SIP

Hello Farmgirls,

Ummm. I’m nearly at a loss of what to write. It all seems pretty trivial at the moment, but maybe a little triviality is part of what we need during these unprecedented times?

First off, how are you all? I truly believe the nation and world is in a collective stage of grief.  Many of us have had our fair or unfair shares of grief in life, so it is a familiar feeling–only different in that everyone is experiencing it.  There is so much uncertainty in where this is going and what the world will look like when it’s “over.” I’ve spoken about it with others experienced and studied in grief, we are grieving the loss of an imagined future.  This is normal and okay.  Sometimes it’s good to have a way to label our experiences and emotions. Please be kind to yourselves and loved ones while we navigate these murky waters.  Cracking under the pressure is expected, crying at the most menial of occurrences is a healthy way that your body and psyche forces you to check in, ignoring it all is a natural coping mechanism. Acceptance that this is happening is the goal. It is where we can find our own integrity.

Moki has been increasingly lazy, or perhaps depressed? Either way, she is cute--finding different pillows to lounge on.

Moki has been increasingly lazy, or perhaps depressed? Either way, she is cute–finding different pillows to lounge on.

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Snow Daze

Okay, I know, I know–I’m a little obsessed.  It is time for my yearly ode to snow.  I just love it so much that I can’t help myself.  In reality, it is so much on my mind over the last few weeks that I can’t think of much else to write about!  It all starts with or comes back to snow.  Living the rural life with a fair amount of land, not too many indoor options for kids, and a lot of driveway means that a lot of snow results in a lot of work and play!

Fern enjoys the good stuff.

Fern enjoys the good stuff.

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Balance

Happy New Year and New Decade Farmgirl Friends!

Our snow family greeting the new year and new decade!

Our snow family greeting the new year and new decade!

It’s been a big time for change and newness around here as we get settled into our new (to us) house, new routines and new part of town.  I’ve been asked approximately 4.3 million times how we are liking our new house, if we are all moved in, etc. etc.  My usual reply is–yes! It’s great and yes all of our stuff is in the house.  Note: I did not say we are all moved in :).  It’s proving to be difficult to “move in” with all of this newness happening with young kids around.  I’m generally okay with this and try to find the humor in it…but there are times of darkness and turmoil! (like when I decided to collect and organize ALL OF OUR SHOES).

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Framily

Happy Holidays, Farmgirls!

Hope you are all doing well during this busy and cheerful season. We’ve had an eventful few weeks up here in the North. It started with a girls’ trip that Ava and I took to Seattle to visit Ava’s cousin and have some sister-free fun!

On the plane, ready for take off!

On the plane, ready for take off!

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Where’s the Snow?

Hey Hey Farmgirl sisters,

How are you all doing?  I’m having one of those uninspired (or perhaps unmotivated?) snaps in life, a writer’s block if you will.  If I recall this is normal for me during this time of the year, during the break between harvest season and celebration season. There’s a stagnancy in the air.  As strange as it sounds, I believe it’s good to be uninspired sometimes. For me it’s a feeling of contentment in that there is nothing that needs to be bettered, accomplished, pursued or created.  I can just go about with the daily rhythms of life and the demands of various responsibilities without daydreaming about what I could be doing or feeling down on myself for not accomplishing all of the things.

Although dinners have been a bit boring. Sorry, family.

Perhaps my last bits of inspiration were spent up making Halloween costumes.  It was a warm Halloween up here!

Perhaps my last bits of inspiration were spent up making Halloween costumes. It was a warm Halloween up here! We had a spider, bee and honey pot (and Ninjago friend).

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A Tale of Three Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Just kidding, it was just regular times—most of them great! We just finished up a two week trip to Minnesota to attend the wedding of my little brother. It turns out he isn’t so little anymore, and I couldn’t be happier for him and his new wife. It was a beautiful wedding on a lovely Wisconsin farm.  The weather didn’t cooperate but it helped prove that their love conquers all! After six years of getting to watch them grow in love and life, their marriage is sure to be a great one.

The adorable couple during the reception.  What an amazing building!

The adorable couple during the reception. What an amazing farm building!

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Bounty

Hello Farmgirls!

Summer is trying to come to an end here in Alaska, but the weather isn’t cooperating. I’m finding some conflicting feelings come with the unexpectedly warm and dry days.  We’ve enjoyed so much outside play with very little prep. The ability to get three kids outside without warm layers or rain gear is amazing!  It’s too dry for mosquitoes to hatch.  The lawn is growing super slowly so not as much upkeep on that front. Heat loving Alaskans have had a great time this summer.

Opal on a not-so-smoky  day berry picking in the mountains.

Opal on a not-so-smoky day berry picking in the mountains.

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When I Dip, You Dip, We Dipnet

There I was, standing chest deep in the ocean, wearing children’s waders and getting beaten by huge waves that poured over and into the neoprene legs and booties.

There I was a week later, several hundred miles away from the previous spot, slip sliding through mud, again wearing children’s waders, trying futilely to rinse the silty, thick muck from my arms and clothing

There I was 36 hours later squatting on a muddy grassy lump (again in children’s waders), feeling my thighs burn while cigarette smoke from a woman nearby wafts into my nose.

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Now, here I am, at home, with a sore body but also with a freezer full of beautiful Alaskan sockeye salmon fillets and another 12 fish to process. I caught all of them in a freaking net! How cool is that?

Claiming to be a fisherwoman would be a loooooong stretch for me. I grew up lake fishing once in awhile in Minnesota. Truthfully, it was always a bit boring to me. I’d end up reading or writing poetry in the boat, tired of watching my little white and red bobber that never seemed to bob. Plus, I didn’t like to eat fish! Even through college and young adulthood, I had plenty of friends that liked to fish but I never got into it. Again, I would go along to be on the water in beautiful areas, but I’d always have a book and a journal. I was fishing for thoughts or something, right?

There is something poetic about this fish carcass...sorry if you don't agree!

There is something poetic about this fish carcass…sorry if you don’t agree!

Since moving to Alaska, I’ve gone fishing a handful of times—the first time going on a halibut charter with my dad. It was thrilling and beautiful and rejuvenating! After that trip I thought to myself, I could be a person who fishes. All I needed was a forty five foot yacht, a handsome deckhand to bait hooks, maintain equipment and clean fish, and a captain to drive said boat. Not too much to ask?

A paid charter can bring you to some beautiful places, like this 5 a.m. spot on the Gulkana River.

A paid charter can bring you to some beautiful places, like this 5 a.m. spot on the Gulkana River.

Earlier this summer my dad visited and we went on another fishing trip—this time to hook king salmon on the Gulkana River, a tributary of the Copper River, where world class salmon are caught and shared with the world! I hadn’t used a rod and reel in a LONG time, but luckily we again had a guide who had really nice fishing poles and taught us how to use them. My dad got a 25 pound beautiful king pretty early on in the trip, so that was encouraging; however as the day progressed I was convinced that I wouldn’t catch a thing. I did lose one fish, but in the end I didn’t get one. There were a couple hours in there where I reverted into my old “fishing” habits, saying to myself I wish I had a pen and paper to write poems….I wish I had a book to read all the while furiously casting and reeling in line after line after line after line. My thoughts were turning toward this is the most expensive sunburn I’ve ever gotten…Why in the world do people fish for fun?….I’d rather be doing anything else with my time right now. The negative thoughts faded very quickly after eating some food, but the longing for writing or reading stuck. In the end, it was a lovely day on a lovely river and a great adventure with my dad. Plus, we had king salmon for dinner!

My pops with his king!

My pops with his king!

Again, after the salmon trip, I thought, I could be a fisherwoman. Our guide gave us really good pointers about the behaviors of salmon and other fish. Now I was intrigued! Maybe my grandpa and others shared their fish behavior knowledge with me as a kid and I just didn’t care; but I bet we just went out fishing and didn’t really talk about the why’s and what’s of fish habitat. As a dirt worshipping nature lover, this is what I found hooked me on the idea that fishing is, in fact, not just for suckers. Maybe I could give this fishing thing a try.

But, first I just wanted to get a lot of fish.

This is a lot of fish for me :)

This is a lot of fish for me :)

Let’s take a step back here—it’s been awhile since I’ve written! One of the reasons I’ve missed posts is just a general sense of overwhelm in our day to day right now. It was a rough first half of this year with loss and not getting jobs that I’ve really wanted because I’m not willing to work full time. I’m not working on the farm this year because I couldn’t justify childcare and getting work done with them in tow is incredibly stressful and inefficient (it would be different if it was my own operation) and just the general exhaustion of having three young kids is enough. I was starting to feel pretty worthless. I know, I know I’m doing the world’s most important job or whatever, but that doesn’t hold a lot of clout when your down and out and live in a time and place where money is king and worth is often calculated by your salary. My logical brain knows that what I’m doing is important, it is finite, it is magical in many ways; and I am so SO lucky to be able to stay home with kids. So, I’ve tried to focus on ways that I can provide for my family outside of endless dishes and piles of laundry (and also beyond the fairly consumptive activities to enrich childhood!).

How I love these days with my babies.

How I love these days with my babies.

We planted a fine little container garden with tomatoes, zucchini, sweet peppers, kale, cucumbers, potatoes, strawberries, herbs and a few other yummy things. I intended to also get out some peas, carrots and other greens; but it didn’t happen, and that’s okay. The are all doing quite well!  This was all great, but I wanted to get some protein into our rotation, and livestock isn’t an option with our current rental situation.  So, I turned to the sea!

Dipnetting is a method of catching fish without a rod and reel. You literally just put a net in the water, wait for a fish to get caught in it, drag it on shore, dispatch the fish and continue! My friend, Amanda, is my adventure buddy. Earlier this summer we went on a thirteen mile adventure run, crossing hip deep frigid rivers and bushwhacking through miles of unkempt trail. It was awesome! Last week we ventured four hours south to the mouth of the Kenai River. We got our tent set up at 2 a.m. and woke up at 6:30 to stand in the beating waves with other Alaskans. It is a fascinating cultural experience! A bunch of people standing in nearly arctic waters, staring out at the water, side by side, cheering other dip netters on as they flip and drag their huge five foot nets on the end of 10-20 foot poles to shore. It was my first time and I felt that familiar you aren’t going to catch anything pull on my brain as everyone around me dragged in fish after fish. One of the guys next to us pulled in at least six fish before I got my first one.

Our fish camp in Kenai.  Didn't get to sleep much in that tent, but it was cozy!

Our fish camp in Kenai. Didn’t get to sleep much in that tent, but it was cozy!

But my first one came! And then another and then four more. Not too shabby for a first timer, I think (for perspective the guy next to us who obviously knew what he was doing got 35 fish in the time it took two of us to get 11!) . The fish were pretty big, 10-12 pounds and beautiful silver with bright red flesh. Dispatching them isn’t pretty or easy, but I got the hang of it. I always say thank you and sorry to the fish before I whack them….Other people who heard me must have thought untoward things, I did hear whispers of “mumble mumble soft these days mumble mumble.” Ha! If being reverent and grateful for your food makes you soft, I’ll take it. We could only fish one tide before we had to head back north, but now we know what to expect for next year.

Fish Creek mud.  We got 24 fish between us in an hour!

Fish Creek mud. We got 24 fish between us in an hour!

This week I’ve been fishing on Fish Creek which is about 45 minutes from my house. It only opens to dip netting when a 35,000 fish escapement is projected. This year it was only open for five days. One morning I went and caught eleven fish in an hour and last night I went and caught two fish in three hours. The best part of last night was watching a guy next to me lose fish after fish after fish. He lost several after he had them landed and they squirmed back into the water! Amazing. He finally caught a fish that didn’t get away and it was the smallest salmon I’ve ever seen (it might have been a trout?). Really hilarious to watch, probably not great to be him. It is a variable life, this life as an outdoors-person (which I wouldn’t consider myself…yet)!

Fishing can be a family affair.  Thanks, Opal!

Fishing can be a family affair. Thanks, Opal!

So, we’ve gotten nineteen fish, mostly sockeye (also called red) salmon. That’s probably plenty for our family, but I’d love to get more for parties and gifts. Alaskans are allowed to get 25 fish for head of household and then 10 more for each additional member in their household. Sooooo, that means we could get 46 more fish…which seems excessive and definitely impossible with our time and resources. However, I’ll go one more time next week at the mouth of Kasilof river. Hopefully we’ll get a couple more to round out our catch.

I'm getting better at processing the fishies.  I will use as much of the fish as I can and bury the carcasses under trees or the bottom f the compost pile.  So many good nutrients in there!

I’m getting better at processing the fishies. I will use as much of the fish as I can and bury the carcasses under trees or the bottom of the compost pile. So many good nutrients in there!

I’m looking forward to all of the yummy dinners, fish tacos and ceviches in our future. I’m equally excited to learn about smoking and canning. My friend also gave me a super easy method to make lox. Gotta love lox and bagel, smoked salmon, salmon dip…mmmmm.

And now it’s time to gather berries!  Gotta love what nature provides.

Until next time Farmgirl friends, Take it easy!

Sending Peace and love from Alaska,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl Continue reading