Snow Day Memories … Revisited

Sitting here tonight, in the deep cold of an Alaskan winter night, I find myself transported home in my mind. Where is home, you might ask? Spoiler alert … it’s a long story.

My barn, seen thru our Oriental Cherry tree.

Where is home? That’s a good question. Harder to answer. I moved to Alaska in 1997, after meeting and falling for an Alaskan guy. Oh my. Talk about not even being on my radar. I’m not sure anything short of Jerry could have moved me from where I lived back then. My little farm was less than ten wooded miles from the southern shore of Lake Superior. I had a job I enjoyed, friends that I cherished and finally, finally enough land to feed my soul. There was even a bubbling creek cheerfully ambling through my back yard. I still remember the day I drove down the nearly quarter-mile long driveway with the realtor. It was love at first sight. We pulled up and stepped out of the car. I looked at the little red farmhouse, the big white barn and the creek. A sigh whispered through me. I knew I was home.

The place needed a lot of work. The house needed upgrading (it was pretty awful) and the barn a new roof. I didn’t care. I loved the land, so figured the rest could be fixed over time.

It seemed like it took forever to clean 30 years of accumulated trash and debris out of the long unused old dairy barn, but we managed it in a couple of weeks. Pens went up, fencing was added and my Pygmy goats and boisterous flock of Embden geese moved in. The geese were thrilled with the creek! It wasn’t much as farms go, but it was my personal 40 acres of heaven and I loved it there.

Of course, a twenty-year span between those old memories and now leaves plenty of room for rose-colored glasses, hazing over the bad times and remembering only what the mind wants to recall. Since I want to keep those happy memories intact, I won’t dig any more deeply into those “good old days” for now. Heck, what I’ve written, deleted, re-written and deleted again over the past few days was enough for me to consider going [back] into therapy. There may be a reason people only keep the “happy” pictures from the past. Who knew? I loved that farm and it will always hold a special spot in my heart, but it wasn’t always good times. Writing about this helped me to remember WHY I moved on when I did.

I met Jerry in 1996. Not so unusual now-a-days, but meeting someone online back then was an eyebrow-raiser. My Aunt Mary Jo voiced the concern others wouldn’t or couldn’t bring themselves to say; “How do you know he isn’t an ax murderer?”

Well geez, wasn’t it obvious? Jer lived [at the time] in a modest mobile home in Anchorage, Alaska. I lived on a 40-acre goat farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Guess who owned more axes? HAH! It sure wasn’t Jerry. Wink.

It was a heart-wrenching decision, but six months later, I sold my farm and followed my heart. To not do so out of fear of the unknown and the comfort of familiar surroundings would have surely left me with regrets and wondering “what if?”. I have no regrets other than those caused by the sheer distance I ended up moving. It was difficult financially and time-wise (keeping in mind I had a working farm with livestock most of those years) to return to visit family and friends. I DO regret not finding a way to manage that.

The first twelve years in Alaska were memorable. We found and bought thirty acres of beautiful wooded land overlooking the Mat-Su Valley to build our home, barn and shop on. I air-shipped nine of my adult Pygmy goats from where they’d been boarded in Michigan to our newly built barn. I was married to a man I loved and was very busy building a new life. Jerry and I were both working hard, while also raising and showing beautiful, purebred Pygmy goats. I was spinning, knitting, dabbling in a variety of fiber and metal arts and writing (always writing). Although I still missed my friends and family, I was happy here. Time flew by.

Then September 2009 came, and Jerry’s accident. The resultant severe TBI (traumatic brain injury) changed Jerry and changed our lives completely. He was hospitalized for over two months. Rehab took years. I stopped writing. I stopped breeding my Pygmy goats. I stopped … well, for a long time I just stopped. There was no room for anything except coping with our new life. But that is for another blog post at a later time. Probably. I still have no regrets. Like Garth Brooks sang; “Our lives are better left to chance … I could have missed the pain, but I’d have to miss the Dance.”

Those twelve years with Jerry were worth every bit of what has come since. For now, let’s get back to loving Alaska but missing the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Boy, when I ramble off track, I really ramble, eh?

 SO … lovely though Alaska is, there are days like today when I look outside at the snow-laden trees, so reminiscent of winter in the UP and find myself missing the best of those days, those people, that life.

Alaska – my own back yard

I lived in the vividly green, brilliant fall reds, oranges and golds and stark white landscape that is the western end of the Upper Peninsula of MI for nearly 15 years and in many ways, I still think of it as “home”. I see photos like this one (below) and my mind instantly thinks “home”. I don’t quite understand why.

The Upper Peninsula of MI – photo courtesy of http://www.roadtrippers.com

I was born and raised in hot, sunny southern California, even though I wanted to live on a farm and raise horses, even as a child. In my early 30’s, I nearly got my wish when we moved to L’Anse, Michigan. The picturesque town sits on the shore of Lake Superior, along the Keweenaw peninsula. Talk about culture shock! It dumped snow on this city girl the first week we lived there – and I embraced it from day one. Altogether, I lived in the UP for about 15 years; first in L’Anse, then Nisula and finally my little farm in Ironwood. Less years than where I grew up in CA, and less years than I have spent living here in Alaska. But if someone asks me where I’m from, more often than not, my response is “the Upper Peninsula of Michigan”.

After twenty plus years of living in Alaska, I certainly am a big fan of all that is intrinsically Alaskan. The rugged snow topped mountain ranges and ice fields, massive glaciers, boulder-strewn glacial-fed rivers and crystal blue lakes … the sheer vastness of Alaska is something everyone should experience in their lifetime. If you do nothing else; drive from Anchorage to Tok, or vice versa. Where you’ll really start to comprehend the magnitude of this great state is along the stretch of highway between Glennallen and Tok. When they say you can see forever, they are very nearly right.

Black spruce forests and tundra – Wrangle-St. Elias mountain range in the distance.
A road less traveled …

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the time to see the rest of Alaska, too – just that this stretch really brings home the sheer SIZE of the state.

It’s really the heavy, fluffy snow we’ve seen this past week (in Alaska) that has taken my mind wandering back to the UP. Alaska gets plenty cold in winter, for sure. But honestly, compared to the UP, the amount of snow we see here is peanuts. I mean, unless you live in Valdez (now, THEY see a lot of snow!), average snowfall here in south-central Alaska is about 50-60” per season.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t miss the amount of snow we saw annually in the UP – if I remember correctly, it averaged between 200-300+ inches per season! That was a LOT of snow shoveling and I’m honestly not up to that these days. But oh, did all that snow glisten. Some winters, you could drive down a residential street and only glimpse the houses briefly as you passed their plowed or shoveled driveways, since the snow was so deep on the sides of the road, you couldn’t see over the berms. It was like driving through a winter snow tunnel.

Blizzards were not uncommon in the UP, leaving driveways and roads completely drifted over as if they’d never been there and making just getting to my barn a challenge. I used to don my one-piece snowsuit and boots to do morning barn chores, and remember days when I’d put my 5-gallon jug of water on a sled and then push it ahead of me as I trudged through waist to chest high drifts to get morning water to the goats and geese. Yes, I eventually invested in a John Deere snow-blower, but even then, I still had to wade through deep snow to get to the snow-blower in the garage … and then snow-blow paths to the barn, the goose building, the dog shed and back to the house. All before heading off to work! I was quite a lot younger, healthier and thriving on living the farm life I’d always been drawn to. Ah! The memories. Hmm … when I think about it now – it was also a lot of work.

A typical mid-winter day in the UP of Michigan – my house is to the right of the huge pine tree.

Spring in MI was pretty much mud season, as it is in most rural areas, rivers running high with brown winter run-off, grass spongy and easily rutted and farm gardens too mucky wet to work the soil. But spring was also kidding season, which kept me busy as a bee. God, how I loved kidding season with my Pygmy goats. The geese added to the fun with nests bursting with goslings. There was seldom a boring day in spring in the UP. Then again, since the goats moved to Alaska with me, my springs didn’t change all that much.

Summers were gorgeous; filled with thriving baby goats, wildflowers, wildlife and sunshine – not as much sunshine or the long hours of daylight we see here in Alaska, and higher humidity, but just as lovely in its own way.

Autumn in the Upper Peninsula is the cherry atop the sundae – absolutely unforgettable. It’s one of the few times of year where it totally out-shines anything you’ll see in Alaska. There is simply no comparison. I very much want to revisit during this time of year. If I can manage to get there in my RV by September (eventually), I doubt I will be pried away again until snowfall is imminent. 😉 Hey, a girl can dream …

I may sometimes wish it were possible, but no – I do not want to go back to the UP to live … you really CAN’T go back, and I know that. If nothing else, writing this has brought me to a clearer awareness that the past is the past. Most of it is surely better off staying there.

Keep memories that makes you happy. Keep the lessons you may have learned, often the hard way, along with the rewards and accomplishments earned. Let go of the pain and loss, of the difficult parts of the journey that was your life in another time, another place. Keep the GOOD MEMORIES. Treasure them. And move on. Life is not meant to be viewed, like a photograph. It’s meant to be lived.

Squeaky Snow!

Last night, I bundled the dachshunds up in their warm winter flannels and shooed all three dogs (Abby doesn’t need bundling since she comes with her own toasty winter coat) outside for one last potty break before bedtime. I bundled myself up too, since it was below 30F and snowing. There are times when I sure do envy Abby her luxurious outerwear.


Hey, Abby, you have snow on your nose!

For a quick potty break in cold weather, I often just don a jacket and wait on the porch in my slippers while the dogs do their thing. If it’s snowing or raining, they usually make quick work of it and scurry right back to the house. Two exceptions; if allowed, little Rhonda will follow her nose for as long as I will allow her to, cold or no cold. If she catches a good scent, snow simply provides an added challenge – the wonderful smells she can’t resist are now buried under inches (or more) of fluffy white stuff. What fun to dig them out!

The other exception is when Abby wanders out of range of my voice … something that is becoming unfortunately more common with our 13-year-old senior citizen. It doesn’t take much these days; if Abby gets 30’ or so away from the porch, she not only can’t hear me but doesn’t see clearly enough to see me waving my arms at her either. Sigh. When this happens, I’d better have a coat and boots on, since there is no option but to go out and gently direct her back to the house. Or stand on the porch freezing my toes off while I wait for her to eventually wander back to the house on her own. I never let her out of sight, so she is perfectly safe, but it’s sure frustrating not to be able to chivvy her along with a simple, “Hurry up Abby! Let’s go!” on a cold night.

OK, let’s get back to last night. I took the dogs out at about 10:30 pm, and the sight that met my eyes was magical. The porch lights glowed into the dark, gleaming off snow falling in large, lazy flakes as they floating through the black sky. Tree branches sparkled white in the artificial light. The weather had been rainy earlier in the day, but as the sun lowered the temps did as well, forming a light layer of ice on every wet surface as rain changed quickly to snow.  It wasn’t long before a light, fluffy covering adhered to each branch, bush and twig like flocking on a Christmas tree. Even the pasture fence had been flocked.

Lovely as the sight was, my mind switched gears the second I stepped off the porch steps and into the snow.

Crunch. Squeak. Crunch. Squeak. OH, I know that sound! Anyone who has lived in “snow country” will instantly recognize the sound of squeaky snow and know what it means. Snowball fights and snow men! It’s the perfect consistency for packing and throwing. Not that I’m probably going to partake in either activity (although it may have been a good thing that Jerry hadn’t come outside with me), but oh, the memories. 😊

I shepherded the dogs back into the house, full of thoughts of winters back in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the 80’s and 90’s, where squeaky snow was the next best thing to squeaky cheese (if you aren’t familiar with squeaky cheese, I pity you). My son, Dan, was a dead aim with a snowball, as were his friends, and I had plenty of snow on my face and down the back of my snow suit to prove it back then. To my credit, I was a pretty darn good shot with a snowball myself. We were ‘blessed’ with a lot more snow back in the UP, so probably ended up with ‘squeaky snow’ more often than we do here in Alaska. Those were good ole days.

I went to bed with a smile on my face, knowing I’d wake up today to a winter wonderland and I wasn’t wrong. My first view outdoors was from my upstairs window. This was as beautifully framed as a painting as I headed down the hall towards the stairs.

Once outside, whichever way I looked, it was just as pretty. To my left, the oriental cherry tree in the front yard stood out in fluffy white relief to the forefront of an equally frosted birch tree. To my right, the entire tree line was etched in thick snow.

The snow on the ground isn’t very deep yet, which the dogs fully appreciate, but the switch from rain yesterday to snow overnight really has it sticking tight to every surface. The lighting was not great for photos, with the sky a pale gray-white against the white landscape and the sun barely breaking through. Still, I love days like this. With no breeze to break the quiet or shiver the snow off the branches, it’s as if time itself is standing still. Soon enough, the air will begin to stir again and snow will release its tenuous grip on the branches and shrubs, falling to the ground and leaving the trees once again bare and naked against the sky. For now, though, it’s a winter wonderland and I’m going to take a walk.

The light, fluffy quality of the snow meant it wasn’t a “wet snow”, allowing the dogs to have a good romp in it without the horror (well, in Baxter’s mind anyway) of being wet. You’ll note that Baxter is wearing a light sweater against the chill and damp. It’s a very reasonable 30F, but geez, a bit of snow could fall off a branch onto his shiny black self. Oh my. Wink, wink. I refrained from starting a snowball fight (it was tempting, but hey … they are handicapped in not being able to return fire), but gave the pups extra time outside to investigate the new ‘look’ of the yard and driveway. It’s amazing the difference a day can make.

After tromping up and down the driveway and around Jerry’s shop building, with me enjoying the view, Rhonda checking out every possible hiding place and snow drift for mouse or rabbit holes and Abby contentedly ambling along in our wake, I felt we’d had enough of the great outdoors for now. Besides, I was getting chilled and Baxter had bailed on us long ago. I could see his red-coated self, sitting on the nice, dry front porch, waiting impatiently for us to return and let him in the house. Baxter is NOT a snow dog.

It’s the first day of December and we have squeaky snow! What better way to start out the month? Enjoy!

Mom … such a short word to fit so many feelings into

It seems writing can’t be completely avoided today. I tried all morning and all I accomplished was to drink too much coffee. This afternoon I got plenty of knitting done, but my laptop continued to mock me. I finally gave in and opened her up after dinner.

Tomorrow, November 30th, is my Mom’s birthday. I almost typed “would have been her birthday”, but I realized that even though she has been gone for nearly two years, her birthday will always be her birthday. And I will always be sad as the day nears – and inevitably passes. The day passes – but thankfully, the memories remain.

My Mom, teaching a little fish-to-be how to swim, 60 some-odd years ago.

I love these photos taken at my Mom’s last birthday party. It was quite the blow-out, with a buffet dinner, great music, an unforgettable cake – and enough flowers to have it smelling like a florist shop.

My Mom passed away just weeks after her 90th birthday. Oh, my … how she had looked forward to that party. It’s a good thing we hadn’t tried to go for a surprise party because Mom had her fingers in every single bit of the arrangements, even though she was pretty fragile towards the end. I think the giddy anticipation was nearly as much fun for her as the actual party. I’m glad she was able to stay for the big event. We did at least manage to surprise her with some of the décor. 😉

Do you see the lovely young woman in the photo on the top of the cake? Yep! My Mom! Gotta love the way they can transfer a photo right onto the cake – and it’s eatable! 😊

I’m going to keep this short. I am really not in the mood for a long ramble. I just want to put this out there tonight … my Mom was here in this world for ninety years. Her life had meaning and purpose. She lived a long, full life and she was loved by so many people. My Mom, Margie Thomas, meant a lot to me and to nearly everyone she knew. She was a huge influence in my life and always a good one. She was a wonderful daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-GREAT grandmother.

Mom, you are missed, but more important, you are remembered with love. You will ALWAYS be loved.

I miss you, Mom. Happy birthday in Heaven.

Thanksgiving – more than just a day

I tend to forget about my blessings during the holiday season. This year, I am going to put extra effort into being thankful.

Thanksgiving should be more than just a day on the calendar … so why limit it to a single Thursday?

TODAY, I am thankful that our wonderful friend and neighbor, Jan, has invited Jerry and I over for a Thanksgiving Eve dinner. Yep, today (Wednesday). YUM! I’m also grateful that our drive to Thanksgiving dinner will be about three minutes! It’s snowing and windy today and I’m glad we won’t have a long way to drive.

So, today, I am thankful for friends. Tomorrow, I’ll find something else to be thankful for. Mood-elevating Dachshund antics, maybe! 😉 Or my sweet, Autumn-hued Abby. She just exudes Thanksgiving joy, doesn’t she? I am thankful for Abby.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope your holidays are filled with friends, family (including dogs!) and good food. If not – feel free to comment below – we’ll talk. 😉

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