The Great Escape… Leaving Alaska

Getting ready to travel always puts me in a reflective mood. Did I learn anything from being here? Did I do any good? Am I going to bring something better with me on this move that I didn’t have before?
Alaska has been a really interesting trip outside my comfort zone. It’s beautiful. I traveled through most of the United States and good chunks of western Europe, and there’s really nothing that compares to Alaska. The sky is a brighter blue. The vistas stretch for miles. And Alaskan summer is lush, green, and lively in a way that even the tropics can’t compare to. I can here not really expecting to love Alaskan summers, but I did. It’s so charming you can’t help but love it.
While I was here I picked up some new skill sets. Nothing strictly Alaskan, but I found the long winter nights and gray, bleak days left me craving color and I started painting. I failed art in grade school and always hesitated to go back and try again. But my daughter wanted a paint party for her birthday, and youtube had painting tutorials (a lot of painting tutorials). It was a lot easier to paint than I thought.
Am I great at it? No.
Are my paintings original? Not really, they’re more like fanfic of a youtuber’s painting. But it’s a start.
Will I ever be an amazing, museum-worthy painter? I could be if we knocked off a bunch of artists, or I practiced more, or the zombies in the apocalypse ate all the good art… there are options. But, to be great at painting I would need to spend a lot more time on it than I have. And my goal really isn’t being museum-worthy, it’s not even to be etsy-worthy. I’m painting because I enjoy painting. Because I like seeing bright colors and learning new techniques.
Am I a better person leaving Alaska than I was when I arrived? I like to think so.
Just career-wise I made a lot of big jumps while I was in Alaska. I was here when my first novel hit the stores. I did my first book signing at Fireside Books in Palmer. In more personal matters I think I grew up a little, learned to be a better parent, spent more time with the love of my life, spent more time exploring the world. I hope it’s all adding up to making me a better person, even if I still haven’t learned how to get to bed at a decent hour.
And what’s next?
I’m moving 3000 miles at the end of the month, headed for Washington State in the Pacific Northwest. We’ll be landing in the Seattle area, which I’m told is beautiful and full of farmer’s markets. What’s waiting there for me? I’ll let you know when I find out!

No Road To Follow

Picture a field of freshly fallen snow. A blanket of powdery white that stretches between the trees. In this field you know there are two things: a road, and a perilously soft shoulder with four feet of packed snow that will eat your car like candy if you get to close.

You are armed with your memory, whatever sense of distance and direction you were born with, a set of winter tires, and a vehicle whose back end swivels like a stripper on the pole even under ideal road conditions. The visibility is poor, a fog is rolling in, and – if you are very unlucky – there will be moose.

Now…. drive.

Most sane people wouldn’t. They’d take one look at the conditions and walk away. Which makes this field of pristine snow an excellent metaphor for so many things. Faith, work, immigration, politics, publishing, illness… Most people look at the trouble in front of them and turn away. They go back where it’s safe and they stay there.

But someone has to cut through the snow.

Someone has to set a path for everyone else to follow.

For me, I had to go because the kids had school. It’s prosaic, but it’s reality. The kids had to get to school, so I went out on the roads, cutting a path, marking a place for the other cars to follow. I know there’s a little old man who walks his tiny dog three times a day, and he’ll walk in these ruts today. I know the retiree next door shops on Tuesdays, and their little car can’t handle deep snow, they’ll follow these ruts today.

If I go off the road, then so will the others. The ruts freeze in weather like this and it’s hard to break a car away from the path that’s been set. My choices in the field of snow will influence the choices of everyone who drives the road today. I’m the one marking the lanes. I’m the one setting the ruts. I’m the one leading the herd. For better or worse.

I make the drive four times in the morning – two out and two back – and I’ll make three more times this afternoon. The snow is still falling. The ruts will fill in. There are cars lining the ditches on the main roads. But, on our little back road, there’s a set of tracks set by my big tires. Hopefully a snow plow will come by this evening, but it can take days to clear the roads. It’s not really a winter storm. Storm is too strong a word. This is a muddle.

A muddle of snow and fog and luck.

And so we muddle along. I make a path. My neighbors follow it out and in. We clear the road with our tires as best we can, trying to make space and redefine the roads. That’s part of civilization. We make communal choices, we work together, we set the rules, and we hope we don’t drive humanity off a cliff.

Drive carefully, my lovelies.

In which our heroine finally gets to see the belugas…

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Since arriving in Alaska in early 2015 one thing I’ve been absolutely keen to do is see the beluga whales at Beluga Point. Just a few miles south of Anchorage proper, along the Seward Highway, there is a turn off near an outcropping of stone where -rumor had it – you could see beluga whales.

I’ve seen belugas before. They’re small, white whales seen frequently in aquariums or Arctic documentaries. They’re called the Canaries of the Sea… and they are darn hard to catch!

In 2015 I didn’t see a single beluga whale.┬áSo I was bound and determined to see the belugas this year.

Last Sunday a friend sent me a picture… there were belugas at Beluga Point! Thus begun the week-long quest to be at the point when the whales were. I tracked tides. I drove down in rain and fog. I was worried the whales would slip away again.

Sunday was beautiful: warm, bright, and sunshiny. The perfect weather for an evening drive down the coast soaking up the last of summer. The kids climbed on the rocks. We watched the current swirl and eddy as the tide flowed back to see. We saw an otter… but no whales.

Just as we were getting to leave someone else spotted a spout in the distance… the whales were swimming out to sea! Everyone clambered around, first to the east and inlet, then to the west and the sun. Climbing over rocks and slipping along the mud until we saw the whales on the horizon. Beautiful white whales, rolling in the sunbeams and waves.

The top picture is the closest I came to getting an actual photograph. You’ll have to take my word for it: those ripples are whale ripples.

If you ever come up to Alaska, try to make it down to the point. Even on a cloudy day the views are some of the best in Anchorage.

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Making Changes And Getting Back In The Classroom

Purple FlowerI’ve been talking about going back to school since I graduated from college. I wanted to go back for my master’s degree. I’ve talked about getting certified as a teacher and taking classes for fun. What I wasn’t planning on was going back as the teacher. But I am!

Teaching is fun for me. I enjoy public speaking (weird- I know) and I don’t mind being the center of attention. In the past my teaching has been limited to homeschooling the kids over the summer, teaching Sunday School, or giving lectures about 72-hour kits and hurricanes for the city. All of those have come with pre-made curriculums and we’re pretty easy.

This time, I’ve been invited to write the curriculum for a multi-week computer class being offered to ESL students, immigrants, and refugees coming to Alaska. The class will start by covering basic computer skills (turn it on, use a mouse, find the internet, Google), and will eventually cover other things like using Word and Excel so the students have those skills for school and jobs.

I’m excited because it means getting out of the house and hanging out with people on a regular basis. I’m an extrovert. I need to talk to people! And it’s nice to be able to give back to the community. My grandparents were refugees after WWII. They’re passage to the USA was paid for by a church, and they worked as custodians there to pay the airfare off before getting jobs. They didn’t know English. My grandma still doesn’t get computers. But in this modern age, people really do benefit from being able to use a computer.

You will probably hear be talking (very vaguely and with no specifics because of privacy reasons) about my students and the class starting in September.

If you’ve ever taught this kind of class, I’d love to hear what worked and what didn’t. Creating a curriculum from scratch is a new challenge. I’m up for it, but I have a bad habit of over-planning classes and we only get an hour each week! So, hit my comments and let me know what you find works best when you’re teaching someone to use a computer.

Love!
~ Liana ~