Monday, January 26, 2009

A Building By Any Other Name

A bathroom is a bathroom is a bathroom. Right? Before I tell you about our move to California, I feel I must indulge in a little out house tale.

As I had mentioned in a previous story, our new home contained no toilet. The apartment sat on top of the shop and looking out the upstairs windows sat the cutest little wooden shack with a crescent moon on the door. After having been instructed on the proper care and maintenance of said facility, I decided we had to make the building more, aesthetically pleasing. No sense in becoming a barbarian after all.

Scrounging scrap paint my sister in law and I painted the interior bright yellow and hubby cut a window on the side to allow light in while accomplishing various bodily tasks. We found a spare glass window to fit the hole and since this type of building was bound to be crawling with insects, I painted large lady bugs on the interior walls. By golly if I had to deal with bugs at least some of them were going to be there by my choice.

A cute little toilet paper holder and a decorated can of lime, (keeps the odor down) completed our refurbishing task. Not bad. The only drawback to this tidy little domestic scene was my 6 year olds late night imagination. Add a daddy who was an incessant tease and trouble was bound to ensue.

The night came when she could no longer hold it till the early morning hours when there would be daylight to guide her. We encouraged her to head downstairs while we turned on the flood lights. We watched out the windows as she cracked the door open ever so slightly and looked around for monsters lurking in the dark.

Suddenly she leaped out the door and slammed it so hard the entire house shook. Fast as lightning she bolted for the outhouse door! SLAM! went that same door as she was safely inside, secure for the moment from dreaded demons of the night. Even they wouldn’t enter the outhouse.

Then daddy got this mischievous grin and said, “Watch this”. He waited with his hand on the flood light switch while our daughter finished up her task. Just as she stuck her head out the door and checked left and right for monsters, he flipped the lights out. A scream pierced the night air!

If I had a stop watch I am certain I would have clocked her return speed at more than twice the original speed! The door to the downstairs slammed even harder making all the windows vibrate. She was so furious with us she forgot that she had been frightened. She did remember to carry her own flash light after that. This is when we all began to develop the habit of not drinking anything after 6:00 pm.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Home on a real range!

That First New Home

Seven days of traveling in the wilderness had taken its toll on both of us. Exhausted and in need of rest, we had hoped to be able to move right into the appartment above the shop that my husband had built many years before.

In making preparations for our return trip to Oregon hubby had sent an eviction notice to the renter. We thought that 3 months was adequate notice and were rather surprised upon our arrival to find him still living there and not even packed.

My new sister in law welcomed us with open arms and we thought we’d stay with her for a couple of weeks, giving the recalcitrant renter that much time to vacate. Sis was sooo glad to see us that she was even giggling. I asked her what made her so happy. She replied, “Oh it’s just that we are all so thrilled that my brother finally found someone who could toller…. um I mean who loves him!”

The next day hub went over to nudge the squatter out of our home. One week went by with no progress. As my belly grew so did my temper. Hub was getting kind of desperate but as another week went by even he grew impatient. We both went over to my new nest. Walking up the stairs and into the apartment above my husbands shop, we saw just a few signs that he was beginning to get the idea. Since he hadn’t been paying any rent, just watching the place my man told me that what ever I wanted to do was fine with him.

I’m not sure what he had in mind that we should do but I took him literally. Methodically and with a resolve that made my man step back and stay out of the way, I began throwing this persons things out the window. Piece by piece every thing went out. Hub looked out the other 2nd story window and said, “I don’t think he’s going to want that dresser back, it’s in too many pieces.” I just looked at him with all of my pregnant self.

He said, “Never mind, I think I’ll just leave you here and I’ll take our daughter out for some grocery shopping.” They stealthely crept away as I continued on my rampage. Dusting my hands off I looked around at my new nest. I made the beds in this one bedroom apartment. I would clean the rest tomorrow. My man had plans to build our mansion later but for now this would do. I went to use the rest room and realized that one key item was missing. Where was the toilet? There was no toilet!

Hub came back later as I was trying to decide weather I should just go in the tub or not. “Where is the toilet?” I asked while dancing back and forth on each foot. “Oh! Sorry! I forgot to mention that we have an outhouse.” “A what?” I asked. I had used something similar in the Army on field maneuvers so I wasn’t at a total loss but I was still somewhat taken aback. I didn’t know there were any places that still allowed those.

We went outdoors for a tour of the privy. He began with, “Now let me show you about…” I pushed him aside and bounded up to the outhouse and slammed the door shut. “I think I can figure it out!” I yelled through the wooden slat door with the traditional crescent moon cut into it. Later after having learned about lime and its uses and what never to put down that hole, etc. I began to make plans to decorate that little building out back.

This wasn’t going to be so bad after all. I just had to turn my mans bachelor pad into a family home. Time would tell.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Bearly Enough Gas

At this point in our journey down the Alaskan Canadian highway we hadn’t had any trouble getting fuel . It was about 1 day out from the place where we had fixed our truck that we began to notice the gas stations were getting farther and farther apart. We checked on our maps and determined the next station was within a comfortable distance and we would make it there with a little more than a quarter of a tank left. (Travelers experience note: Always call ahead to make certain wilderness gas stations are still open)

Oh no! The gas station on our map was no more! It was closed for good! Checking our trusty road maps we located the next station. Knowing exactly how many miles per gallon we had been getting we estimated that we would run out of gas about 75 miles before we got to the next station. And that was using the spare can of gas that we had tied to the rear end of the truck. Oh no!

It was late at night. No one else was on the road. We kept watching the gas gauge move towards the E. We had never been this low on fuel. It was my turn to drive. Hubby was trying to sleep in the back at this point. He kept waking up and poking his head through that cab window to look at the gauge.

“Keep it steady, no accelerations or decelerations, ” he intoned for about the 20th time. I was too nervous to even respond. When he could no longer sleep he crawled through the window to sit up front with me. Then he began to explain about 55 being the optimal speed for gas conservation (for the 20th time as well). At this point I didn’t think it mattered because we were obviously running on prayers and fumes anyway.

All I could see was pitch black outside just beyond our head lights. I tried to keep a steady pressure on the accelerator and maintain that magical speed of 55. I could hear and feel the gravel on the road being thrown out to the sides of the truck. (In 1983 not all of the Alcan Highway was paved.) Suddenly 3 figures darted out into the road just ahead of us and I slammed on the brakes. The cats, (who were peeking through the cab window) tumbled forward into the floor of the truck. “Hey don’t slow down!” hollard my man! “Do you know how much more fuel we’ll use trying to get back up to 55?! In one movement he grabbed both cats and flung them through the window into the back of the truck with our daughter. I looked at him and said as calmly as I could, “If I had hit one of those bear cubs, I don’t think we’d be alive because that giant momma bear over there would rip our truck apart trying to get at us!” We both looked over to our left and saw the dark figures of momma brown bear and two baby cubs loping across the tundra. Praying slient thankyous, we both let out sighs of releif.

We resumed our fuel consumption. By our best estimates we should have run out of fuel 25 miles ago and still had 25 more to go. I kept glancing at the guage, and the speedometer. It was now well past the E. Had I seen it move? Twenty five miles later the truck was still running and it was 2 am as we pulled into the gas station. The lights were off and everyone was obviously asleep. We parked and turned the motor off.

The next morning after we had gotten a few hours sleep, we tried to start the truck. It wouldn’t. Appears we had used up the last of the fumes driving into the station. My man and the attendant pushed the truck over to the pumps and we filled up. We also called ahead to the next station.

Southward HO! Part 2


Except for having been nearly eaten alive by mutant Alaskan/Canadian crossbreed monster mosquitoes the first part of our journey was uneventful. The truck rumbled along loyally and we admired the wilderness scenery. Whitehorse Alaska was our next scheduled stop and we pulled in there to do some recreating.

After leaving White Horse we began to hear a muffled “ka-thunk”, “ka-thunk”. We turned toward each other. “Tell our kid to stop making noise back there.” I turned around to settle her down but she was already asleep in the back of the truck. “Not her”, I informed him. “Oh my, I hope the rear end transmission isn’t going out!” I listened carefully. No grinding noises and no problems shifting led me to think it was a wheel bearing. “I think it’s a rear wheel bearing”, I said. My honey gave me a condescending chuckle. “This from a woman who didn’t know how to read a map when we got married? Look , I know you worked on helicopters when you were in the Army, but this is a truck. I think you’d better leave the diagnostics to me. “

Well talk about mood altering conversation! “Fine! Figure it out yourself!” I harrumphed. “Now Now hun,” he condescended to me again as we pulled into a parking lot. I know what I’m doing. I’m going in there to ask the way to a dump and with any luck I’ll find a rear end that matches this one. After getting instructions we headed to the local dump. He parked the truck and we scouted for parts. “Look! I think there’s one that’s our year and make!” I couldn’t believe it but it was true.

“Now”, he said, “The guy said the most important part is to watch out for bears.” “What?” “Watch for bears, he said to keep a look out so you sit here in the drivers seat and honk the horn if you see any coming while I remove that transmission.” “Are YOU INSANE?! ” I yelled. “No, I’m serious. Now if you don’t want your only husband eaten alive while trying to repair our rig I suggest you pay attention.”

I sat in the drivers seat with the window open scanning for predators and biting my nails down to the quick. Every crackle, every noise made me jump. What was I doing out in the middle of nowhere, pregnant, a 6 year old, two house cats in the back of the truck and an insane man scrounging for parts in a wilderness dump?! An hour and a half later he came back to the truck grinning and carrying what I assume was a transmission. But what did I know? I had only worked on helicopters.

We drove back to the one restaurant combination bus stop, post office and general store. In the parking lot he began jacking the truck up and taking the rear end apart. He seemed bent on dismantling our whole vehicle and we would probably end up stranded here forever. Watching him I grew a little more than irritated. “Sweetie, wouldn’t it have been more prudent to change the wheel bearings first?” Sighing really big he said, “Have you ever worked on this type of vehicle? No! So just let me get back to work please. Go do something.”

So I started to pray. Not your basic, “God please help my husband” prayer. Oh no, let’s be honest here. I was praying the “God just let me get a chance to say, I TOLD YOU SO! prayer.” It is such a good thing we aren’t God. Do you know how many bolts of lightning I would called down by now?!

Anyway, I left with our daughter to go get a bite to eat, and at the same time a greyhound bus pulled up. People began to walk over to see what my man was up to. I listened just before going into the restaurant as my hub described the symptoms to a man who had asked if he could help. “Well” said the newcomer, “I’m not a mechanic but you know what it sounds like to me? A wheel bearing.” Then he walked away and left my man sitting on his knees, covered in grease with a half torn apart truck and a scrounged transmission that he realized didn’t fit. I went and hid in the restaurant praying, “God PLEASE don’t let me say I told you so!”

Six hours later it was dusk and he had gotten the rear end put back together. Now what to do about a wheel bearing. We drove to the only gas station in this not quite big enough to be a town place. Getting out we found the sole proprietor underneath a vehicle repairing it. My husband asked if he had any truck parts. “Maybe,” he said, “If I got anything it would be in that little white cabinet on that wall.” Walking over we opened the dusty cabinet and peered inside. The cabinet was completely empty except for two small boxes, both wheel bearings, both for our make and model truck. Really!

The next day we were on our way. No more “Ka-thunks” from the rear and the truck ran smoothly along. “Wasn’t that a blessing those two wheel bearings being there?” said hubby. “Yep” I replied. (please God don’t let me say I told you so!) “Nice job on the repair.” I said. We rumbled along quietly for a while. All of a sudden he said, “Sorry I didn’t check the wheel bearings first.” (Hold my tongue God) “Oh that’s ok. I’m just glad we didn’t get eaten by bears.” I halfheartedly replied. I contented myself that I had resisted an enormous temptation and probably avoided a terrible argument. Would that I could have held my tongue as well on other occasions.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mosquito Creek Way Side


I was fed up with the darkness that is Alaska. I was fed up with the cold. I wanted to move south. My hubby was missing his family as well and the Alaskan economy was in a temporary decline. The decision was made to move to Oregon. I was 3 months pregnant when we began planning. (Hint: important detail for later)

We started to build our modern day covered wagon. Scrounging plywood and paint, scraps of carpet and hardware we built a brown wooden camper on to the yellow truck. Knowing that we would be traveling through rugged country we took out the rear window and connected the cab of the truck to the new interior. Each of us crawled through to make certain we fit. Now if there were any bears or mosquitoes along the Alcan we could get into the truck to sleep without exposing ourselves to the hazards.

After packing the back of the truck up taller than the top of the closed tailgate, we laid our bedding out on top of our worldly goods. Selling everything else we headed off on our adventure. The truck was sitting way down on the shocks, as we drove down the Alaskan Canadian highway. I had never been camping in my life other than military exercises. So I figured, no sweat! (cue maniacal laughter here)

We began our journey pleasantly enough, with the second night stopping at a place called Eagle Creek wayside. Sitting in the truck we heard a low pitched hum. Looking at each other we sat quietly and listened as the sound began to grow into a thunderous drone. Alaskan Mosquitoes! These weren’t just any tundra blood thirsty vampires, they were Canadian cross breeds! Here is where our planning and preparation would pay off.

Deciding to skip a hot meal and have snacks we started to crawl in the back. Hubby crawled back through first and then I passed our oldest child through the opening. Now it was my turn. I started to enter the portal. “Uh ohhh.” I mumbled. “Whats wrong honey?” my man asked. “Ummm, I no longer fit through the opening!(It had taken three months to prepare for our trip) What are we gonna do?” The outside hum increased slightly in volume. I looked nervously out the window.

“Well you’ve got no choice. Jump out the door, slam it shut and run around to the back. I’ll be there and open the door. Just don’t let any of those blood suckers in!” Did I hear gigling sounds mixed in with the hum?

I sat very close to the passenger side door with my face pressed up against the window, waiting for a break in the swarm. At last my opportunity came. In one swift movement, (which was a marvelous thing to behold at six months pregnant) I leaped from the truck, ran around back and dived into the camper. Slam! went the camper door.

We sat quietly, breathing heavy and trying to hear if any of them had gotten in. We breathed a sigh of relief.

Outside the angered blood suckers bombarded our truck dive-bombing into it repeatedly. The truck rocked back and forth and we feared these mutated creatures would have can openers in their mouth parts and begin hacking our truck to pieces. We lay under our covers, back to back guarding each other.

Just as we were about to drift off we heard that dreaded high pitched hum INSIDE the truck! “DANG, honey you let one in!” grumped hubby. “Don’t blame me! You made the hole to small! You knew I’d get bigger! I can’t help it if you didn’t plan right!” I complained. “DUCK!” I yelped. We both dove under the covers. Oh mercy, we’d never get any sleep now.

Totally under the blankets, we knew we’d have to come up for air sooner or later. I could hear her zinging around inside our camper, licking her chops and rubbing those little insect legs together in anticipation. I grabbed a straw and tried sucking air from under the covers like a snorkeler. I fell asleep and nearly suffocated. I think she had stuffed a piece of paper into the straw. These were HUGE mosquitoes!

At 5 am the next morning we repeated the process, with me making a marathon dash to the front cab. We escaped this time with only a few welts. Going hungry till we came to the next town, we scratched. Here we recovered, doctoring our wounds and scraping dead mosquito bodies the size of small dragons off the sides of our truck. The place was renamed by us. Mosquito Creek Wayside.

After this event we figured the rest of the trip would be a peice of cake. (cue maniacle laughter again)

"I Think I Can't, I Think I Can't....."


You too can learn what ever you don’t want to in just nine, count em, NINE years! All it takes is resistance for the first eight, and total submission for the 9nth. It’s not effortless but as they always say, “No Pain, No Gain!”

Thus began my hubby’s personal mission to teach me to read a map. “Sweetie Pie”, he’d say as he periodically would try to corner me for my geography tutorial, just sit down and relax! “I’ve got a nice assortment of yellow fluorescent markers, some fresh maps, and a compass. “Whoopie”, said I.

Ignoring me he would begin in a monotonous tone, “Now let’s begin by finding where we are on the map.” He would shove the map over to me and grin hopefully. “Well, I said,” where are we?” “You do it, he said encouragingly, ”Find where we are at.” Looking at the squiggly lines, I fought down a growing sense of panic and frustration. Turning the map so North was directly in front of my forehead and all the words were right side up, I sat and stared.

“Well?” “I’m LOOKING!” “Try over in this quadrant.” “Well that’s real helpful to people who know what quadrants are! Quadrants are sections of peoples bodies, I don’t see any cadavers on this map!” “Quadrants are sections on maps .” “Well that’s helpful,” I said, “does a map have veins and arteries too?” “I don’t think you are taking this thing seriously, ” he said looking rather hurt.

Looking him straight in the eye I said, “I fail to see why I should learn something that causes me this much stress. Learning should be fun! I have a private pilots license, a degree in psychology, and a degree in art. Why in the world should I do this thing that makes my brain hurt?” He stared at me with his mouth open.

“How on this earth did you pass the test for your pilots license if you didn’t learn to read a map?” “Easy, ” I said. “First, I faked it.” Second most maps for pilots aren’t covered with a bunch of squiggly lines crossing and criss crossing over each other. Third you only have to score 70 on that test and I got a 72. Two points overkill. I didn’t have to get every map question correct and by flipping a coin on the multiple choice ones I had a 50% chance of getting it right!” And lastly they got a little gadjet called a VOR at each airport so all I have to do is dial it in and they tell me which way to go.”

He stared at me a long, long time. “Remind me, “he said,”to NEVER fly with you, it’s dangerous enough driving with you!” “Fine, ” I responded, ” But I’ve only gotten lost once and that didn’t count because I forgot to set my gyroscope every-time I landed. Besides power lines are fun to follow when your flying.” By this time he had his head resting on his maps. “Are we done? ” I asked.

“For now.” he moaned. “BUT, I’m putting this map up on the door so you can study it every time you go out.” “Sure go ahead,” I mumbled. Periodically when the map reading issue would come up I would rip the map down. He would follow me around the house with florescent markers and new maps thinking today would be the day he would make it click for me! I tolerated this reasonably well until the moon would exert its phase on my female body. Then I would turn into a horrible shrew, throwing anti orienteering tantrums worthy of any two year old. “You are MEAN! Why can’t you leave me ALONE! I have DOCUMENTATION about dyslexia! IT IS A REAL THING!” I ‘d rip down the map and he’d put it back up.

“Don’t feed me that junk,” he finally said. “I will not give up! You can fly a plane, then you CAN learn to read a map.” This went on periodically for 8 years. I felt like an old wild horse that someone was trying to break. I began to rethink my tactics. He obviously hadn’t learned what it said in the books about dyslexia. I had to show him first hand to convince him. Here was my new strategy. I would put forth a serious, concerted effort and spend whatever time it took with him, studying and trying to learn to read the map. Once he saw that something in my brain made this task impossible for me, he would give up on his own. It would make for fewer arguments anyway.

But a funny thing happened to me on the way to trying to convince him. In one year, I was reading that map. The lines no longer appeared to be just a tangled mass. I knew how to tell north, and south, east and west just from being outside and looking at the sun. I could orient myself by the stars! The man who would not give up on me glowed with pride at my accomplishment! I felt a new sense of power, of self esteem! I began to think there was nothing I couldn’t do or learn. There was no greater gift that he could have given me. Thank you Lord for my OC husband.

“Now”, he said “let me teach you how to make bread!”


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Off Course



In Pittsburgh I am now told

Blue Men are there to behold

Ambassadors for the City

Also helpful and pretty

You’ll never get lost or rolled!


Apparently Pittsburgh has decided to help those of us who are directionally challenged. I wish they had these guys in Anchorage when I was first married. It would have saved me allot of grief. But then again maybe not.

One morning my new hubby asked me if I knew the way to the local lumbar yard. Informing him that I knew exactly where it was and had in fact been by there on many occasions, we jumped into the yellow pick up truck to buy needed job materials.

It was one of those cheerful Alaskan spring mornings and all was right with the world. We drove along happily chatting away. “turn right at the next light”, I said. Right turn executed we continued on. “Oh, turn left at this intersection.” Lumbering and bouncing along in our faithful truck we traveled for another full minute and I told him to turn right at the next stop sign. Then left at the next block and right at the next. “Now here is where it gets tricky”, I informed him. “At this intersection here turn left but then immediately get into the right lane and go one block where you’ll turn right again.”

By this time my spouse had ceased chatting with me and had a look of concerned curiosity on his face. Hmmm, he must be trying to memorize the route there. I had better not interrupt him. I sat back quietly and waited for the next turn. “There!”, I yelped, “turn left!” I had almost missed it. He kept glancing over at me and looking more and more curious.

“Are you sure….” he started to say and I interrupted him with, “Now turn right there!” “Honey”, he said in a very measured tone, “ummmm how many more turns is this going to take?”

“Ohhhhh, about 5 more, but I can’t quite remember though you can see the lumber yard from the next to last turn.”

As we completed the number of required turns, the lumber yard appeared in front of us. Grinning I said, “See? I told ya I knew the way!” He sat at the steering wheel staring out in front as if in deep thought. Then he said, “Sweetie, the lumber yard is only 10 minutes from our home and it just took us 45 minutes to get here with no traffic against us. Just how did you pick this particular route?” Hopping from the truck I proudly proclaimed that this was the public bus route.

“What?” he exclaimed. “Well sure,” I said. I’ve traveled this way for 6 years now. I know the route like the back of my hand.” “Don’t you ever use a map?” he asked incredulous. “OHHH NOOO! I Can’t read maps! I’m dyslexic.”

“What do you mean you can’t read a map? Anybody can read a map, you just have to put your mind to it. I can show you.” Looking him straight in the eye so I communicated my message clearly I said, “I can NOT read a map, I am dyslexic. I find other ways to get around, end of story.” “But..” “NO!” “I’m just saying that…” “NO!”

I walked into the store determined he was not going to stress me out trying to teach me an impossible task. He walked into the same store determined that with a little TLC and some patience he could teach me. Little did we both know that this event would take on a life all its’ own, constantly lurking at the back of our relationship and nipping at the heels of our contentment. Next blog be ready for : The 9 Year Long Map Reading Lesson!