Category Archives: Everyday Life

Please Remember

Dear Jenny,

This is a note to remember to continue to notice how spectacular it is here.

ImageLong after you’re done saying, “I just moved here x weeks ago,” after the apartment searching, and the learning new roads, don’t forget to still look at the mountains with awe at how they magnify the sunsets and sweeten the landscape. 

Never stop dropping your jaw when an enormous moose strolls past you while jogging on the coastal trail, and please keep playing the game, “Clouds? Or Mountains?” Also, just try to remember when stuck in rush hour traffic that your backdrop is mountains and billboards, as opposed to just billboards.

Eventually, soon probably, these surroundings will become commonplace, but it is important not to take this much beauty for granted.

Sincerely, 

Previous Self

Happiness, As I Know it

*Sam and Debi Travel Update: Our dynamic mother-son driving duo is sleeping safe and sound in Watson Lake, Yukon tonight with just under 1,000 miles left to travel. Apparently today was a beautiful one with sun, mountain passes and lots of wildlife! Continued prayers for safety are requested as some rain and snow are forecasted for the next two mountainous driving days!

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A teary-eyed me paused when it was my turn to share what I am thankful for at last years’ Thanksgiving meal. Looking around a table full of many of the most important people in my life, I felt completely overwhelmed with emotion and happiness. I somehow choked out that I would not be able to answer – that to explain all I am grateful for, I would have to slowly describe each day, for I have been fortunate enough to come to a point in my life where the little moments stick in my mind far more than the huge occasions or pre-planned activities.

Living in Anchorage the past three weeks has been… hectic, new, exciting and insightful. Since I left, Sam encouraged me time and again to slow down and try to use the time to my benefit and for some reflection. It’s not so often I have the chance to take this much time for myself. At first I shushed him and felt as though the best thing to do was to keep on moving so as not to let the past well up and make me sad. But over the past few days, I’ve kept mostly to myself, and embraced a wonderful set of emotions. Of homesickness and of impatiently waiting for Sam to arrive to start our new adventure, certainly. But I have mostly been overcome with gratitude and happiness, and I feel lucky to have had the time to reflect on it.

Though I have always been surrounded by a fantastic support network and generally happy conditions, tonight I spent some time thinking of where exactly this feeling of contentment that I have been graced with so freely lately flows. Here are the top five things I settled on:

(I’m sorry if this comes across as boastful or overly sappy. If it is, you don’t have to keep reading. I won’t be mad at you, promise.)

sam1. Love. My family and friends the the world’s greatest. (No really, you are.) And, Sam …Sam is my rock, my comedian, my friend. Somehow, even in my worst moments, he shows me how much he loves me. He and his love make me continuously happy, plain and simple.

adventure2. Adventure. Experiencing new things brings out the child in me. While admist the unknown, often surrounded by beautiful things (sunsets, aspen forests, winding single-track, you name it) I enjoy that rare feeling of being completely engaged and in the moment. The excitement of seeing something totally new, and not knowing what’s around the next corner is uniquely satisfying, and increasingly rare. But also the need to rely on whoever I’m with to keep one another safe in uncharted territory, this builds trust and friendships pretty fast.

460249_10101743375962459_551963076_o3. Home. Some of my most special moments happen while stirring a pot of simmering marinara or in kneading dough amidst a floury disaster in the kitchen. They happen when resting my head on Sam’s shoulder and laughing about something funny that happened that day. They’re while reclining on a cheap, plastic chair under the canopy of the full tree shading our deck. Or laying in my bed watching the morning sun pour in the windows. I like to get out and enjoy the world a lot, but I like to come home, too.

380506_10102026290080299_573585002_n - Edited4. Activity. Preferably outside. If I go a few days without some, I feel sluggish, negative, and ugly. (No wonder why college was so hard for me! I never exercised!) As someone fairly new to consistent exercise as an adult, it is a game-changer. You know all those things the articles say about endorphins and positivism and joy related to exercise – turns out, they are all totally true. And, beyond simply exercising, I think setting a goal, all on my own, and sticking to it is a pretty amazing thing, too.

reflection5. Reflection. I relish in life’s joys by speaking them, and obviously, by writing them down. I know this isn’t for everyone. But sometimes when I don’t actively reflect on what’s good, I overlook it. I feel as though my happiness  and my awareness of and gratitude for said happiness go completely hand in hand.

I don’t really think this is the “right” happiness list and it almost certainly varies from your list. But I wanted to share it with you because many of you reading this are the reason behind my happiness and the very foundation from which I stand. Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing me such happiness. I hope I can do the same for you.

-Jenny

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Week in Pictures

What a great first week. Honestly, moving up here has gone much smoother than I ever expected. However I’m partially convinced that I haven’t had much homesickness simply because I haven’t yet had any time for it.

Between learning the ropes at work, getting my “life checklist” in order, keeping up with Ryan and Shaina, and spending as much active time as possible, I have had very little time to myself. I think that’s probably a good thing.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to:

Skiing with Shaina in Bicentennial Park

Learning to skate ski. Progress is a little slow…

Completed my first week of work downtown at REAP. I think I’ll really like it there.

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Shaina and I did some bouldering (v2 baby) and got belay certified to do some indoor (and hopefully outdoor) climbing. Climb on!

The sun came out for a few hours so I finally got a glimpse of the mountains. Otherwise it’s been snow, snow, snow!

No more jogs down city blocks for me! This is in the park right near Shaina and Ryan’s house.

Took in a spectacular view of the city from the coastal trail. I would say I get overly excited about things like this.

Not pictured: We also attended Arctic Entries, a storytelling event where seven people each tell a seven minute story on a theme, which changes each month. This month was “Commitments: Makin’ em, Breakin’ em and Fakin em.” Since Sam and I are huge fans of the Moth podcast, I knew I would really enjoyed this as soon as I heard about it – and I did!

I can’t remember everything else because it’s been a blur. More to come soon!

First Impressions and Anchorage Fashion

Today was my first day living in Alaska. (I had to put that in italics for added emphasis because I kept telling people, “I live in Madison” or just saying things in such a way that makes them think I’m just visiting.)

Anyway, yesterday I [re]packed up all my stuff in Minnesota (except the big yellow boots pictured below because they would not fit into any of my suitcases no matter how hard I tried), loaded myself and my stuff on a plane, watched a couple of movies, and then landed in Anchorage. Little did I know, my boots look was simply preempting my good Anchorage style – the Minnesotans just couldn’t appreciate it as they should. More on this later.

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Ryan gave me instructions to try to sit in a window seat on the starboard side of the plane and I am so glad I did. The view coming into the city was spectacular and I hope you all are making a mental note to do this for when you come to visit me :).

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Shaina tells me Ryan also handled the decor for my temporary room while I stay with them. (Pictured left.) Pretty fancy, huh?

Anyway, thanks to Shaina’s kindness and ability to befriend really great people, I had a fantastic first day. We took a beautiful morning ski on the coastal trail. Then we grabbed some groceries (which were notably more expensive, as I was advised) and headed to Ryan and Shaina’s friends’ house for a cookout. After that, we made a pit stop at the REI clearance sale (you know, to update my wardrobe and fit in) before heading to the Bear Tooth for margaritas and to meet a couple other friends. Everyone I met was incredibly friendly and welcoming.

One interesting thing that came up was Shaina explaining to me that apparently Anchorage was voted America’s worst dressed city. I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to evaluate this on my own just yet, but there was a funny moment today when I asked Shaina if she planned to wear her ski clothes to the cookout, and she replied that she would probably just put a skirt on over them. So, I grabbed a Mountain Hardwear dress, and when the time came, I just threw it on over my ski pants and baselayer.

When in Rome…right?

Sure enough, at the cookout, one of Shaina’s friends was wearing a down skirt over some black leggings with an athletic top, and surprisingly, I think she looked really nice.

After this, I started noticing people’s clothes. And by that, I mean I saw seas of down jackets, Gore-Tex, and Patagonia as far as the eye could see. So, I’ve temporarily concluded that Anchorage is not the worst dressed city, it’s just the most comfortably dressed city.

I think I will like this. So far, so good!

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Dear Lucía

Every new adventure comes with the challenging phase of leaving what you know and embracing the many changes that come with it. In anticipation for our move, lately I have been saying a lot of goodbyes. Doing so in one case struck me as surprisingly difficult. This is an open letter I wrote to my ESL learner after saying goodbye a couple of days ago.  

Dear Lucía,

It has been an absolute pleasure to help you learn English over the past four months. Your determination and perseverance is simply inspiring as you manage your job, a house full of kiddos, plus some major medical setbacks. Your progress is slow, but significant. I hope you do not get discouraged and you keep at it!

But really, I need to thank you. You offered me the chance to step completely out of my comfort zone and you welcomed me into your home to try my hand at something totally new. You were patient with me when I failed at explaining. You laughed at my dumb jokes. Together, we were frustrated at our inability to communicate, yet somehow in those moments, you encouraged me through a nod or a smile and we pressed on.

Somewhere within the process of lesson planning, pronunciation drills, writing each other “stories,” and repeating vocabulary cards, you taught me important lessons about myself. That I am lucky to be able to converse with the friendly sales clerk in the grocery store and neighbors at the bus stop, and never to take that for granted. You reminded me that although we come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, we have so much in common – the need to be accepted, desire to fit in, and aptitude to pass on kindness and enjoy laughter with one another despite tough barriers. And most importantly, you reminded me about the great reward that comes from giving. Your warmth and friendship in exchange for my time preparing lessons for us was worth it a hundred times over. This is something I will hold with me forever.

Saying goodbye to you and your children caught me completely off guard. Somehow I expected to walk out coolly and not look back. But I left tearful and very saddened – that I will not have the opportunity to experience your positivity and giggle with your cute kids again. That I am abandoning you so soon after we’d established trust, respect and patience with one another.

Please know that I will think of you often and I will celebrate your literary victories from afar. Though we entered one another’s lives for such a short period of time, I will be rooting for you and your kids for the rest of my life.

Buena suerte y muchas, muchas gracias, Lucía.

-Jenny

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Stalking Alaska

Moving to a place you’ve never been is a funny thing. I have been searching blogs, tourism websites and comment boards for a glimpse of what living in Anchorage is like.

Here are some gems I have found in my search. (And I apologize, but I have completely failed at citing any of this. My bad.)

The Bad:

“So, if you are planning on moving to Alaska, bring your rain gear and your anti-depression pills.”

“It’s freezing butt cold for 8 months out of the year”
“Isolated… you HAVE to fly if you want to go anywhere, unless you like paying a billion dollars in gas”
“People ask you if you really do live in igloos”
“Mosquitoes big enough to kill horses”
“At any rate, if you love shopping and trendy things, why don’t you try Seattle instead?”
The Good:
“if you like the wilderness and incredibly large open spaces, Alaska is the tops. I backpacked for a couple of weeks and thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever been- so many colors reflected in the mountain sides…and views to die for.”

“Gold and many places to find it need I say more.”

“there’s no sales tax and no income tax in Alaska. Yeah. Starting to sound like a good place to live, no?”

“Perhaps nowhere else combines the conveniences of the modern age with the freedom and adventure of living on the edge of a vast, unspoiled wilderness as do Anchorage and Alaska.”
“we’re the friendliest people in America.”
(This one is from a tourist website, to be fair:)
“Anchorage is a place where adventure and modern life go hand-in-hand. You can go ice climbing before work and skiing on one of the hundreds of groomed trails during your lunch hour. Then sit down to a meal at a world-class restaurant and cap the evening off with a Broadway show. Alaska’s largest city offers all the conveniences of urban life without compromising on solitude, adventure, and open spaces. Now that’s life.”
“Winters aren’t as bad as myth would have it. Anchorage actually has a warmer climate than other cold-weather cities like Chicago and Minneapolis because it’s on the ocean.”
This helps only a little bit. But at least now I know I can find gold. Need I say more?

Recap.

It has been almost a year since I’ve blogged. A YEAR. Luckily, I have good things to say about the end of 2011 and most of 2012. In fact, I have so many good things to say I hardly know where to start.

Actually I do. It’s with this guy —-> 

I have always liked to do stuff. Just in general. But this guy takes “doing stuff” to a whole ‘nother level. He has that good initiative to bundle up and strap on some skis when it’s 10 degrees out. Or that motivation to start training for biking season…in March. I have never had that “get up and go.” But, he inevitably brings me with him and although I grumble and whine (a lot) getting out of the warm car to put on my bike shoes or ski boots on days the sun is NOT shining, I get going and always end up thanking him for forcing us up and out.

However.

His “doing stuff” also occasionally results in me sitting in a diner in Copper Harbor, Michigan surrounded completely by mountain bikers (read: really, really smelly dudes) after a night of sleeping in a tent in a storm yelling, “Ifeellikeicantkeepupwithyou!”

But that’s getting ahead of myself. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the awesome stuff we (I) have been doing since I last posted:

Rock-tober 2011: This was the month I ran my first half marathon. I attempted to write a blog post about that milestone, but decided I was better off relishing in my personal victory all by myself. My journal from that day starts, “I do not want today to end. Today I finally proved that I am capable of setting a lofty goal, dedicating myself to work toward it, and reaching it – all by myself.” This taught me the value in goals – especially when it comes to athletics.

Thinking of doing one for the first time? If you’re anything like me, you’ll need a schedule. Print it and put it somewhere you see everyday. I liked this one.

November: This is the month I discovered Pinterest. I know this sounds lame to list as a milestone, but this means that I found a lot of really good new tips, tricks and recipes that have now become staples. I could do a whole post on this, but here are three of my faves:

December: I can’t remember a damn thing about last December except that it was really busy at work and then I got to spend Christmas in MN followed by a week on the beach in Florida. Not too shabby.

January: Someone wonderful sent me this quote that I have come to love:

Bessie Stanley, in the Lincoln Sentinel on Nov. 30, 1905 wrote:

(s)”he has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”

February: Got to see so many of my favorite people all in one place. I am so proud of my friends from high school (many of whom live in Chicago where this picture was taken). They’ve all gone on to do such wonderful things!

March: Sam finished chemo this month. He’s been on the up and up for a long time now, but every time I watch him cross any finish line on his bike, I still have the urge to yell, “HE SURVIVED CANCER… RECENTLY!” What an inspiration.

April: Oh you know, just BOUGHT A HOUSE. We love it, but for most of the summer it has merely served as ‘homebase’ in between activities. Cook a meal, clean, sleep, store the bikes for the night, load them, go to work. Repeat. (Or some variation of that.)

May: 

June: Tackled Horribly Hilly Hundreds (“the toughest one day challenge ride in the midwest”) number two.

July: Did July even happen? It was a blur. Aside from attending some bike event, family occasion or work trip constantly, I also started indoor climbing as a result of purchasing a groupon to the local climbing gym and LOVED it. It’s a workout, a puzzle to be solved, not terribly time-consuming and just plain fun. I highly recommend it. And, I got to visit Hannah in my first trip to the Big Apple!

August: Biking, biking, biking. Then, started training for my second half marathon. And, for the first time in my life I feel like an athlete.

I am sure I forgot a lot. But, I have had a great year. I feel tired so often, but I also feel really, really happy.

…which is something to remind myself next time I am rushing to load the car up with a canoe, paddles, PFDs, two mountain bikes, gear, clothing, toilitries, a tent, sleeping bags, pads, (etc) to get on the road to make it up north before 2 am. Or something like that.

Thanks for reading this long blog post. Let’s do it again sometime- soon!

-Jenny

Determined to bake my own bread

This is my sixth attempt at homemade bread. Sixth! I know bread baking is something that is supposed to take a long time (lifetime?) to master, but… but… why?

Well. Let me back up because I believe have a good reason to be frustrated.

Sam’s mom, Debi, gave me a KitchenAid Mixer for my birthday back in March (…I know. So nice!). Of course, I immediately made a loaf of white sandwich bread. And of course, it turned out perfectly.

Bread baking is EASY, I thought.

The thing was, it was white sandwich bread: yummy, but nothing special. So then I got very snooty about the whole thing and tried making whole wheat sandwich bread.

Fail.

So then, I tried making Challah.

Major brick-like fail.

So then I tried to make Artisan Bread.

1 inch tall: fail.

Then I tried some sort of free-form loaf.

Too much wine + novice baking = Fail!

Although I did get increasingly discouraged each time, I was always eventually motivated to try again. First, because I bought a new cookbook. Then, because I started to read a delightful novel called, The Baker’s Apprentice. Then I was given another cookbook, and finally, because I read this interesting blog post entitled “October Unprocessed,” (as featured on Grist) about a group of people challenging themselves to go a whole month with no processed foods. If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you’ll know that I love stuff like that. I just love the idea of being self sufficient and doing awesome things like regularly having homemade bread.

So, how’d attempt five go?

At first, not so good. I may or may not (leaning toward may)  have added a full cup of extra flour. I’m still not sure. Anyway, I wouldn’t call this (picture at left), “wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container,” as the recipe calls for. (Not at all.)

But, now that I am accustomed to the idea of failed baking, I continued with very little to lose.

By this afternoon, the dough was much easier to work with after being refrigerated all day. This dough (photo right) seemed much more promising. (And yes, “seem” is really all I have to go off of.)

So, after shaping it I let it rise for 40 minutes (while I went for a delightful rain-run), popped it in the oven and voila: MASTERPIECE!

I am just so happy.

I also read that you can store the same dough for up to 14 days (covered in the fridge), to have fresh bread whenever you want with just 5 minutes of preparation time. I love this!

Did I mention how happy I am?

I found the recipe I used online (at the bottom of the page – the first few pages in this article are the “5 minutes a day” theory.) To novice and frustrated bread bakers – I highly recommend this recipe.

Good luck!

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Inspiration Station

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you need a good dose of something inspirational.

Well here you go:

(Not that you asked, but I recommend reading this slowly – to give yourself enough time to let things set in before you move on.)

On that same vein, Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech is a lot like this Holstee Manifesto. It’s inspirational in a jab-you-in-the-side-might-be-exactly-what-you-didn’t-wanna-hear kinda way. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, here are a few excerpts:

“…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. […] If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

“…On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.”

-Steve Jobs

Since college, I have had this theory that there is just not enough room for meaning in everyday life – we are uncomfortable with it for some reason, except with our very close friends or family. I think this is just the type of advice we can easily be uncomfortable with. It’s easy to say, “What does that even mean?”

Or, you can apply it to your life in a very specific way and run with it.

In sum:

Start doing things you love. Stay Hungry. Stay foolish.

PS: TM – thanks for the inspiration. Everyday.  🙂

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Wishes, Loves and To-Dos

Approximately two and a half months ago I promised to document my half marathon training. Sadly (and somewhat unsurprisingly), that didn’t happen. Luckily, the half marathon training has happened, and I’ll be running it in just a little over a week. (eek!)

Tonight’s run was the kind that would have made this blog awesome had I documented the whole process. It was colorful, warm, quick and reminded me of how far I have come.

The jury is definitely still out about how much I actually like running itself. But the time to think, and the opportunity to notice little things to add to the list of all I love about Madison make it well worth sore hip flexors and inability to gracefully ascend or descend the stairs.

Anyway, tonight I particularly appreciated the thinking about nothing and now I have separated my “nothing-thoughts” into three categories for your enjoyment. (Amusement?)

Wishes:

– I wish I had taken the following classes in college: forestry, horticulture, creative writing, photography, pastry making (is that real?) and lots more. Just more variety. I miss learning.

– I wish I hadn’t stopped writing for so long. Ira Glass is currently my main source of inspiration on this matter: (click the image to enlarge)

Loves:

So many things!

– The houses that are growing beautiful things like pumpkins, colorful flowers, mums, etc, and have done it in lovely ways that I am determined to someday master.

– The block of Spaight Street that had the most perfect fall colors. Bright yellow, electric green, deep red. Oh boy, oh boy it was amazing. I gasped outloud.

– All the smells while running. Tonight’s highlights: the autumnal smell of decaying leaves that smells dirty and sweet at the same time, lots of dinners (particularly one that reminded me of Grandma Lynes’ goolash), french fries, and Sam’s cooking when I walked in the door.

– How I felt like I had a relatively easy run and it was five miles! I will never get over how awesome I think that is.

To Dos:

– Write more. (Do it, do it, do it. DO IT.)

– Take some sort of class to chisel away at my “wishes” list.

– Get awesome at baking bread and do it regularly.

Ready? Go.

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