Posts Tagged ‘moving’

The last several months have meant big changes for our family, for me personally and consequently for this space. As I consider how to re-enter this whole blogging business, I am realizing that my current life and self are rather different from what you have all come to know. Well, I am the same I suppose (more on that in an upcoming identity crisis post, months in the making), but the details are different.

Today I thought I would acquaint you with those changed details, orient you to my new/old place. My posts are bound to change a little up here in Cordova, not their spirit or intent, just their ingredients, and it would be best if you kind of knew your way around.

So, allow me to (re)introduce myself. I am Calamity Jane. I live in the big gray house at the top of the hill with the willow fence and that long row of raspberries, the totally overgrown garden beds and trashy scattering of buckets. Careful not to trip over the kids’ bikes.

This yard was almost all gravel and weeds when we moved in, in 2004. Little token patch of lawn in front, which I busted up practically on arrival. Built up dirt by hand, with river silt and peat hauled in buckets from actual bogs. There’s no topsoil here, none at all. Can’t buy it for any price. This land just barely crept out from under the glaciers.

I had a few years to throw my unbounded energy into garden building before our first babe came along in 2007. I’ve got a long way to go towards my dream of an edible Eden, but the basic framework has been laid, now it just needs to be reclaimed from three years of neglect.

Those hard won beds are now choked with buttercup and the scavenged boards I used to build them are finally rotting. I only had time to clear and plant one small bed this summer, put my energy into the perennials instead. That beautiful raspberry hedge didn’t trellis, weed and mulch itself, you know?

Speaking of perennials, there’s my prized rhubarb. It looks humble enough, straggly to be frank, but those crowns we brought back on a bush plane from some old homesteaders down the coast in Yakataga. We were there to do reforestation work, with our little girl just a babe in a wrap.

This big shed in the backyard is supposed to be my pottery studio some day, when we have an extra several thousand dollars to fix it up. And, if I can talk myself down from converting it to a barn and getting two Nigerian dwarf milking goats.

There’s the old chicken coop, it looks like a witch’s hut under all those drooping hemlock boughs. I am so excited to finally spread around my own aged chicken shit– we left just as my first “crop” was maturing. I also have a giant pile of well-aged compost, having duly done my good work years ago, before even the second baby. I feel rich. This is the stuff of dreams by my standard. When I do finally get those annual beds cleared and rebuilt– boy howdy, they are gonna grow some goodness.


Come on inside I’ll make some coffee. I make a fine cup, if I do say so myself.

Our house is nearly always a wreck, but I’ve learned not to be too embarrassed about it. Occasionally I keep it really clean, and I’m not embarrassed about that either. Sit right here at our wobbly almost-antique kitchen table, it’s the best seat in the house.

If you get a break in the clouds you’ll have a fine view of Mt. Eccles. I climbed that mountain once, alone, without really meaning to. Got stuck right at that last rocky hump, afraid to go any further but damned if I was going to stop so close to the top. Finally got my gumption up just as a thick blanket of mist rolled in, obscuring what would have been a phenomenal view. But, that’s life in a coastal temperate rainforest….

Over here’s my pride and joy– my jar shelf. Built to the exact specifications of a year’s worth of quarts, pints and half-pints. Just a token number of jars now. I’m not gonna show you the bottom five shelves which are just full of cluttery junk. I look forward to crowding that junk out with more local bounties.

“Local food” looks quite a bit different up here. Cordova is a tiny town stuck between ocean and mountains, with no farmable land whatsoever. There is not a single hoofed farm animal for hundreds of miles, there’s no place to grow hay, what would you feed them? I am one of maybe ten people who grows any kind of vegetable garden, and it is meager by anywhere else’s standard. Cabbage is a big stretch here, kale the mainstay.

Instead I fill (or used to, and hope to again!) our larder with sockeye and silver salmon; bear, deer and moose; salmonberries, blueberries, cranberries; chantrelle and hedgehog mushrooms; wild plant pesto and pickles. Not to mention the dumpster, the most productive form of subsistence by exponential degree. (Back where I feel comfortable going out at night, I have been dipping into The Big D again. Last week an entire case of eggs– 30 dozen. Not a single crushed or drippy edge. One day past date, and eggs last practically forever. I would rather be eating eggs from our own chickens obviously, but short of that, I will gladly accept a $90 savings on our grocery bill.)

Cordova has a year round population of 2,500 people. Stop and read that again– 2,500 people. True that in summer it swells to 4,000, but nevertheless, there are no stop lights in this town. There are no fast food joints, no box stores. We leave the keys to our car in the ignition. Kids can walk to school by themselves just like the old days. The small town feeling of it is doubled by the fact that there is no highway connecting us to somewhere else, you cannot drive in or out– you have to fly or take the ferry.

Cordova is a genuine fishing town, home the Copper River fleet. The harbor and canneries dominate the town physically, fishing dominates mentally. Coming back from New Orleans, I’ve been relishing a place so ruled by actual physical, productive work. There are some profoundly ass-backwards things about Alaska (as exemplified on an international scale by Miss Palin, thank you ma’am) but on the flip side are many truly wonderful old fashioned values. In New Orleans, particularly from our ‘safe’ mostly white upperclass neighborhood, I was beginning to wonder if these values were just gone from our country. It made me feel sad and lonely. But here I am again, among kindred! Not to say that this town is all of one mind, not at all, but generally people here place strong value on hard physical work, on practical use over aesthetics (and a consequent acceptance of dirtiness), on trust in our fellow humans, strong community, and an honestly slow pace of life.

Plenty of people here live just as they would live in any city in the US, they drive their car everywhere they go, buy all their groceries at the store, watch cable TV on the weekends and don’t think twice about the world outside their window. But a very good sized portion of people are here because they love this place and they love the rural Alaskan lifestyle. I would say most Cordovans “recreate” in the out-of-doors, if only because that’s just about all there is to do. Hiking, hunting and berry picking are all very popular and, at the very least, everyone drives out the road now and again just to lay eyes on some wilderness. Most folks in this town put up something, usually fish in the chest freezer, if not home canned jars of smoked goodness. Homemade jam is practically pedestrian. There is a salmon festival, a wild berry festival and a mushroom festival. During deer season, the attention turns to hunting. Not everyone in this town participates or even cares about this stuff, but enough people do that it is normal. In July folks on the street are talking fish and boat engines, in September they’re talking deer and firewood.


Having just said all that, it bothers me that I put a “regular American lifestyle” at odds with my supposed Cordovan one, because that is the real genius of this place– People span the whole distance. We spend the day hunting then come home and watch TV, we eat fish from the freezer with potatoes from the store, we drive our car when it rains and walk when it’s sunny. Some people are all on one end, and others are all on the other end, most of us are somewhere in the middle, but there seems to be an unusual amount of mutual respect. It’s no utopia, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve lived in a number of small Alaskan towns and chose this one partly because the feeling of community and togetherness and acceptance is, I think, truly unique.

But this is not an unabashed love song to Cordova. Being back in this place after the extreme urban charm of New Orleans is not all peaches and cream. We do miss that steamy press of humanity, the bright garish clang of it all. Architecture, history, music, festivals, amazing restaurants, balmy weather; people in all kinds and colors. Coming here was a surreal spatial shift. Everything is just exactly the same as when we left, and I popped right back in like a puzzle piece…. But having led such a different life for three years I find it mind-bendingly weird to just ‘pop right back in.’ As an old friend said in the comments on that Where to Now post, the culture shock is much greater coming back home because I wasn’t expecting it.

The first few months were wacky, mentally. As soon as we stepped off the ferry, New Orleans felt like a black hole which couldn’t possibly have been real. But Cordova didn’t feel real yet either. I was floating in some kind of numb limbo which I am just now starting to ground out of. I’ve still got all kinds of twisty stuff going on in my mind, as you know, but at least I think that I am finally starting to feel physically here. Which is doubtlessly why I was finally able to finish this post, started over a month ago.

It’s seems a bit vain-glorious to explain my homeplace at such length, but context is everything for a girl like me. At some point in the near future, once I get a foothold on it, I am hoping to write about the emotional and psychological process of moving home. I figured you ought to understand where and what home is first. It certainly is a unique place in the world.



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Weather Report

We have been home almost two weeks now, and I think we are just beginning to feel the delayed adjustment pains. Both kids have been challenging, the 2yo fussy like he’s sick but he doesn’t appear to be actually sick. The 4yo sensitive like only a daughter of mine could be, and reverting to 2yo style screaming fits– except so much more sad and personal. She needles me and needles me and needles me until I finally get mad and blow my top, and then she wails with wounded fury. She said the other day, “When you talk so mean to me, I think you don’t love me.” And although the whole of it is obviously a composed plea for my attention, focus and care, that end point of rejection is painfully uninvented.

For my own part, the back pain that started a few months ago has reared it’s ugly head again. It’s hard to patiently lift up your 4yo who wants to be carried to quell her Lost Home anxiety when your back is already screaming it’s own song. My Man keeps saying, “Just rest it” and I give him a big ole middle finger.

I have started working already, earlier than we’d planned, but only one day/week. We are strapped for cash in this after law school, before taking the Bar limbo. I was filling out the paperwork for Medicaid yesterday and it asked for level of schooling completed for both adults. Mine was 12th grade, which looked about right on a form for government assistance, but when I wrote out “law degree” for My Man, it seemed a bit silly. But how is anyone supposed to make this gap between school loans and steady income when graduation culminates in two months of intensive study for The Biggest Test of All? At any rate, my job here is the most basic sort, working the till and milkshake machine at our local taco joint. I realized the first day that the work was strangely similar to what I am used to– cleaning and service. But, the ability to carry through with each task is a pleasure. None of the customers (so far) hang on my leg and cry.

My emotional homecoming has been unexpectedly complicated. I’m not sure I can even suss it out yet. It feels good to be back, but I feel I am a bit ruined for the weather here. Talking about weather sounds like a joke, but it’s in fact most definitely not. This place is incredible– beautiful mountains, thriving wilderness, old fashioned small town community, the best salmon in the world. But it all comes at a very direct price. 100-160 inches of rain per year. That’s an average of more than ten feet. And cold rain, an average June temperature of 50 degrees. Farenheit.


The bad weather largely accounts for those good things I mentioned though. The mountains are so striking because they are young and raw, so recently exposed by glaciers that are still only ten miles away. It’s that same enormous pack of ice that makes the river so cold, which in turn makes the salmon so extra-ly luscious with fat. The wilderness is intact because the town is small, and the town is small because the weather is so shit. Between the weather and the remoteness, you have to be devoted to this place to live here, which makes for a very special community.

Every place has trade offs. New Orleans was balmy and lovely for many months of the year, but I had a friend who’s neighbor was shot in his own front yard while his kids watched because he was trying to help someone who’s car was being stolen. I feel like I could take any number of cold rainy days to avoid that creeping fear in the back of my throat.

I am having an awkward time synthesizing these two realities. New Orleans felt real and normal (by the end anyway) and I worried that it had changed me, changed my expectations for normal, that I would feel lost and adrift after the move. Of course the minute we got back to Cordova, the town we had lived in for seven years, the house we had lived in for almost five, it also felt absolutely real and normal. Everything was just the same and I fit right back in as if I had never left. But my brain is simply not big enough to synthesize those two disparate realities. Only one of them can be right, making the other a ghostly dream.

It’s going to take some time to pick it all apart.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures of my new old Homeplace.

the view out our window, where I drink my morning coffee

rediscovered treasures

a few of my overgrown garden beds. that’s creeping buttercup. the wickedest weed this side of the state line. still, nothing compared to three years growth in New Orleans.

i hope to recover and plant two of my beds this year, although it’s already quite late for planting here. just carrots, kale and peas, and the carrots are a gamble.

our second day home, a friend brought over a freshly caught copper river salmon fillet. with potatoes and fiddleheads, a meal of the goddesses.

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We have finally finished hucking all of our everything to the new house, just ten blocks from our old place. As of yesterday, we are officially moved. I had never moved like this before– a whole family’s worth of shit. I was packing and taking over a car load a day or more during the last week, then on the 31st we rented a 17 ft truck and did two trips full of furniture. I was completely tapped by the end of that day. I haven’t felt so thoroughly exhausted since that 3rd day after my last birth when I decided it would be okay to take a 2 mile walk…

Holy crap, I had no idea we had that much stuff. How in the world did all that stuff fit into our old house? And more to the point, how exactly am I going to fit it into our new house????

I’ve put the bare minimum back together in the kitchen, but most of our 3,955 boxes are still looming Matterhorn style in the bedroom. Given the spare number of minutes I have in a day to tackle such extraneous projects, I fear it could be weeks before I finish.

Twice as much work as I would have thought, but still so worth it. This house is just fantastic. Funny, because if we had moved here first I would probably have been disappointed. It’s very plain. No soaring ceilings or rickety, charming 100 year old house feel. It’s just a solid brick house, built in the 60s. Ranch style, I guess.

But there are so many things I didn’t know before to appreciate about plain, practical houses. Bedrooms that don’t have to be walked through to get to the other end of the house. Floors that don’t bang like a drum when you walk. A laundry room– a room, instead of a broken down old shed falling off of the back of the house, with washer and dryer set up on pallets, and cockroaches skittering should you ever dare go to put a load in after dark.

But what really knocks my socks off is what’s outside the house. Again, you have to have lived boxed in to appreciate a front yard, a back yard, and a generous side patio stretching almost the full length of the property. Super bonus– the fourth side of the house, rather than smashing up against the fence line, has a full 6 foot wide alleyway/jungle. It would be a dream chicken run, but even short of that gives the most lovely, wild viney views to the windows along that side.

There’s lots of green growing things. Nothing edible of course, but nevertheless. I am learning to appreciate plants that you can’t eat… Two roses, a wisteria, a Japanese magnolia, a steadily advancing grove of bamboo in the back (why? why didn’t anybody tell them?), a few other intentional landscaping plants and a margin of jungley-ness on two sides. The property doesn’t look particularly big, but somehow it manages to have a little of everything, while still feeling open and spacious.

I feel this crazy bliss like I imagine people feel when they buy their dream home. Like it’s all just going to be sunny bubbles and peaches from now on. The possibilities of the future are so untainted.

Another movement toward the future is afoot. Right here, in my fingertips, in my glazing eyeballs, in my Squirrel Nutkin brain– click, click, clicking.

Erica from NW Edible has signed up to be my personal cheerleader over at Faceb**k, and claimed she had folks “clamoring to ‘like’ Apron Stringz,” and that I’d better get a page or else.

I resisted at first, I have a special hatred for FB. I in fact unsigned myself from it a few years ago. I had signed up (naively) to help coordinate a high school reunion, not knowing what I was getting myself into. To each their own, variety is the spice of life and all that, but I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t want to get “friend” requests from people I had barely known in the first place. As far as a way to keep in contact with the people I cared about, it was too shallow and bullshity. As for everyone else, I hate to sound cold, but it just wasted my time. I felt wicked having such rude thoughts but I have a very limited amount of time on the computer. I could write one decent email to a real friend, or seven bullhshit one liners to “friends.”

I feel like FB is just the extremity of our watered down, soundbite culture. Instead of a few meaningful relationships we scatter ourselves to the wind with 172 ‘what you watched on tv last nights’.

Starting to sound purty preachy for someone who just signed herself back up to the devil, don’t you think?

I have no doubt that some good stuff happens there. And I am taking it on faith that you lovely readers will point me in the direction of the cream. I am a hopeless renegade, I can’t help but fight tooth and nail what everyone else is doing. I often fight it without examination, on principle. Then at some point, when I stop baring my teeth long enough to get a good look, I realize I want in. And when I do, I jump feet first, often catching bystanders by surprise.

Make a big splash I always say.

I signed back up so that Apron Stringz could have a page and a place in the modern world. If this is the way folks get together now, then I’d better quit the bitching and get with the program! I like to think that all you far flung punk housewives who have found solace in my words can find solace in each other as well, out there in cyberspace. I used to ruthlessly ridicule such internet solidarity. But you know, I’ve grown up. It really does help to know you’re not the only whatever-you-are in the room.

I don’t know quite what y’all expect from this here FB page. I doubt I will have much time or energy to put into it myself. If I did, it would come at the expense of writing here in this space, and that would make me sad. I have come to relish writing here.

I imagine it more as a place where you readers can meet up and discuss the daily nuts and bolts of this lifestyle we’re trying for. Especially as a place for those of you who don’t have a blog to exercise your voice. We’ve all got something to say.

Speaking of which, anybody want to help administrate the group? I’m serious. Any FB savvy soul who might want to help out would be given a gold star.


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For those of you who don’t read the news (like me) but don’t have husbands who keep you reasonably informed, let me share some headlines. One of BP’s many offshore oil wells is spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico, round about– Oh! Well, round about really fucking close. So close that when they had the bright idea to try burning some of it off a few days ago, we could smell it. Either that or all the red-necks in Mississippi were burning their trash.

Ahhh, there’s nothing like the smell of burning tar-balls in the morning.

I’m sorry to take a sardonic tack, but this just seems a little too familiar. You may remember we moved here from Cordova, Alaska. Google “Cordova” and “oil spill,” and just see what you come up with, just you see… Okay, I can’t wait. I’ll tell you. 1989, a community practically decimated by the biggest fucking oil spill in the United States.

Neither of us were in Cordova at the time (I was 12, in Anchorage) but the town is still all tangled up in the memory of it. And the legal battle, which raged for 20 (yes twenty) years. The battle in which the devastated fishermen and their community attempted to gain some reasonable kind of compensation for their loss. And in the end more or less failed in a David vs. Goliath meets Real Life story.

So, it harked a little familiar when the cover-ups and lies started spewing as fast as the oil, all the way at the other end of the continent, in our temporary homeland of Louisiana. First, there was an oil leak. Ok. Big deal. Then, turns out it was a pretty big leak. Then, okay, maybe there’s actually 1,000 barrels a day pouring into the Gulf. Oh, wait, did we say 1,000? Well, it’s hard to know exactly. Maybe it could actually be 5,000.

Er, well, there’s really no way of knowing. And oh, whoops, looks like the slick just tripled in size overnight.

And, ummm…. Are you ready for the bad news? We don’t know how to turn it off. Guess we’ll just have to wait 6-8 weeks, like a fucking book order.

While all the red-necks and tourists in Mississippi stood on the beach, waiting for the oil to reach their “sugar sand” My Man and I came to a sudden and pivotal realization.

We can’t leave.

Here I was, literally packing up all our acquired crap to stuff into closets, taking pictures to advertise for subletters, tickets in hand, job awaiting, ready to leave for Cordova on May 12th. On Thursday, in the midst of packing boxes and My Man studying for his finals, he brought me up to date on the spill, and said a bit wistfully, “It’ll be a little hard to leave with all this going on….”

That’s all he said, but it sat in my stomach the rest of the day, fermenting into an unlikely brew. I am not a spontaneous person. I am a planner. And things were all planned out.


Sometimes life looks you in the eye, and says,

“Get it together, you little shit.”

And I couldn’t avoid her squinty Evil Eye. I couldn’t avoid putting the pieces together.

My Man is in school for environmental and maritime law. He has been working with laws in a non-lawyer capacity for years, trying to get the bastards in charge to even just follow their own weak rules. He’s done a ton of work on oil issues in Alaska. He followed closely the legal battle against Exxon for the Valdez spill, and I know it’s part of what motivated him to go to law school to begin with.

And here we happen to be, smack dab in the middle of what looks like it’s gonna take Cordova back off the map. 11 million gallons? Pshaw! We spit on your 11 million gallons!

So, friends. Looks like I’ll be hangin’ around in the wicked heat, crushing humidity, and burning tar-ball fumes awhile longer. Look forward to more unrelenting sarcasm, and maybe some tips on how to cook dinner without sparking a flame.

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