“Last” Day in Alaska

Note: I started this post on the afternoon of our last day in Alaska, although I published it from Cuenca, Ecuador, a few days later. I couldn’t quite get it finished at home; my brain was too preoccupied with preparations and other priorities.


Well, the day has finally arrived. Actually, after creeping towards us for months, “The Last Day” swooped in and swept us away. It’s now afternoon on The Last Day, and while there is still a little more to do, we’re mostly ready to head to the airport. The primary goal for the rest of the day is to spend time with family … time is passing altogether too quickly.

In fact, our last weeks in Alaska seemed to defy the laws of nature, as each day dissolved into night in record time. Our to-do lists kept growing as available time kept shrinking. But we’re getting on that flight tonight; we’re headed to Ecuador.

With limited time and patience, I’m just going to quickly jot down some of our last-minute preparations/experiences:

  • We finalized our transition from a four-vehicle-family to a no-car family. Rod sold his ’69 Chevy last fall, the “big truck” went earlier this spring, and we both handed over the keys to our daily drivers two days ago. It felt like being a teenager again: Mom and Dad were very generous, both in allowing us to borrow their cars and in shuttling us to various family gatherings. For many people, not owning a car is not a big deal, but we’ve been dependent on private transportation for all the years we’ve lived in Alaska. Eschewing private vehicles is a huge leap for us.
  • This morning, the morning of our departure, we discovered that our plan to “port” our Alaskan phone numbers to Google Voice was ill-conceived. Google Voice (and most other VoIP service providers won’t port an Alaska number, it seems. We are now trying to figure out if there is any way to keep our current phone numbers … but it’s not looking good.
  • In the last months and weeks, I’ve struggled to balance preparations to leave, Nixin’s homeschool, and quality time with family and friends. If I were able to revise my choices, I would put greater effort into the relationships. Even so, I did get lots of hugs and kisses and squeals of laughter from my nieces and nephews to carry with me.
  • One last haul of clothes/belongings to a donation center. It’s funny, it was placing some of Rodney’s clothes in a bag for donation when it really hit me: all our belongings will be on our backs and in some checked luggage. When I was getting rid of my clothes it never struck me, but looking at Rodney’s t-shirts that I’m so used to seeing him wear, and that I’ll never see him wear again … my heart and throat clenched up a little. The reality of what we are doing, the “sacrifices” and adjustments we are making to experience a different way of living … it just sunk in a little deeper.
  • ¬†Last minute decision to purchase compression hose for me … the double whammy of pregnancy and a lot of flying made it seem like a good idea.
  • While we were in town getting the hose, Rod talked me into replacing my rain coat. I was on the fence for months about this … I LOVE my Arcteryx shell … but I’ve been wearing it for about 5 years and it’s waterproofing isn’t great anymore. When I realized that I tend to avoid wet weather because of the jacket’s diminished impermeability, I knew I needed to get a new jacket. I wasn’t mentally prepared to drop several hundred to replace my incredible coat, though, so I got less expensive REI-brand raincoat. There weren’t a lot of color options, but I got one I never would have chosen in the past: “Flash Pink.” It’s kind of orangey/red/pink. Rod and I have noticed how nice it is to have easily-identifiable outerwear when we travel; we don’t like to lose one another. And while he has a gorgeously subtle navy blue Arcteryx, I’m content to be the eyesore if it means he can always find me ūüôā

OK. Time to head to our family gathering; hard to believe we won’t get to be physically present with some of these loved ones for eight months. I know that many families are scattered across state lines and continents, but for the last eight years, I’ve been very close to my family, so this is going to be tough.

Tonight is the night: we say goodbye to Alaska for now, and head off for a new way of living.

Perceived Stumbling Blocks May Actually be Your Stepping Stones

About a year and a half ago, Rodney and I started to talk seriously about moving out of Alaska. While we both feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up in this beautiful state, we want to live in a more temperate climate with better access to fresh foods and where we can trade in our dependence on personal vehicles for more environmentally friendly and physically active transportation.

Furthermore, despite the fact that I grew up in the dark winters of Alaska, my body and mind function a trillion times better with exposure to sunlight. (I think I may be part plant.) I want to live where there is more sun, more of the year- for the sake of my health and well-being and in turn, the well-being of my family.

Whenever we’ve discussed moving outside of Alaska, the sticking point has always been the same: a sweet little girl named Nixin.

Nixin is a delightful, intelligent, good-natured human. When I first met her, she was a chubby, hilarious, sweet, almost-two-year-old. At this moment, the slender 9-year-old is bouncing around the house with long legs sticking out from her pajama t-shirt.

Rodney shares equal custody with Nixin’s biological mother. As far as these less-than-ideal situations go, things work out pretty well; Nixin seems incredibly unperturbed by her dealt hand of a split family and we manage fairly good communication between our families. Yet, the custody arrangement has always made our dream of an out-of-state move seem out of the question.

Alaska is far removed from any other state and requires one to fly (or drive for several long days), just to get to any other part of the USA. Seriously- a whole other country sits in between!¬†To get from¬†Anchorage¬†to Seattle (the nearest big city in the “Lower 48”), one must drive¬†¬†2,250 miles (3,620 km). That is the same as driving from Chicago to San Francisco, with enough miles left over to continue down the coast a couple of hours to Monterey. The feasibility of equal custody with one family in Alaska and the other outside seemed … mmmm, NOT feasible.¬†Especially if Nixin were to remain in the public school system.

However, Rodney and I had reached a point that we could no longer imagine remaining in Alaska until Nixin graduates from high school. (Did I mention that I’m part plant and NEED MORE SUNSHINE?!) We decided to broach the subject with Nixin’s biological mom as a “what if?” We said that someday we’d like to move outside of Alaska … what would we do with the custody agreement then? Much to our surprise, we weren’t the only family with dreams to move.

Nixin’s biological mom had been wanting to move out of Alaska, but like us, thought that it wasn’t feasible. All of a sudden the conversation turned to a discussion about how homeschool would allow for both families to move to wherever they’d like and still allow equal custody of the sweet girl who has little choice in the matter.

Fast forward several months and plans were rounding out. Nixin’s other family decided to move to Washington State to be closer to family, and after some contemplation, we decided to spend a year or so “slow traveling.” ¬†We started to homeschool Nixin in preparation for the planned big changes. Now we have about 6 months of homeschool experience under our belts, our personal belongings and real estate are finding new owners, and we’ve got plane tickets out of the country.

As I finish up¬†this post, we’re 105 days from leaving Alaska, and Nixin’s other family is currently trucking their belongings down the Alcan highway towards Washington State- they actually took the plunge before we did!

What if we had never broached the subject? The response we received was beyond our imagination and turned the tide of our life towards realizing our dreams sooner than expected. Don’t hold back for fear of how others will receive you¬†or what response you might get- who cares what they think! Besides, ¬†your perceived stumbling blocks may actually be your stepping stones.

Lighter, freer … and living with my parents

I’m sitting in my comfy pajamas as the gray sky outside the window slowly lightens; my sweatshirt cozily hooding my head, and a wool blanket tucked around my legs. My mom is to my left enjoying her coffee, snuggled in her fuzzy bathrobe. Rodney sits to my right, equally cozy in front of the glittering Christmas tree. Nixin is just out of view, snapping together her advent puzzle. We moved in with my parents a couple weeks ago.

This is the third Christmas in a row that my small family (Rodney, Nixin, and I) will be living with my parents in their large home. Many people hear this and think that it’s a situation we resorted to, rather than created. It’s funny to me that the first impression that people have to this news is usually the polar opposite to how we perceive the situation. We don’t have to live with my parents, we choose to and actually very much enjoy it. We have also joined households in the past for economic and familial benefits with no clear goal or target in our sights. This most recent joining of the households, however, has a very different feel to it. This time, an enticing target rests on the horizon and there is an almost imperceptible current subtly pulling us towards an incredible and life-changing adventure. And every day I feel the pace of the current gently increasing.

August 2018 is when we take the final steps to embrace the major life shift we have been working towards. “Eight more months, eight more months!” we sing to ourselves when faced with an irritating situation or task that will be left behind when we board the plane to our next phase of life. It’s really, really going to happen. It’s really, really happening right now!

Yesterday, we officially moved out of our old place; it’s sparkling clean and ready for a new tenant. I remind myself that these aching muscles from determined scrubbing of property and endless hauling of “stuff” will soon be free from both. I have my fingers crossed that I will never clean any of our rental units again. And I am hoping with all my might that by spring, I will be the proud non-owner of several fine rental units. Oh how the tables have turned!! Not long ago, we aimed to become small-scale real estate magnates as part of a goal towards financial independence. Now, we are excited¬†to shed our couple of properties and with them, the last of our debt and business responsibilities. ¬†When we board the plane to Sweden in August, we plan to walk on with our backpacks, and leave zero encumbrances in our wake, either financial or physical. Our remaining ties to Alaska and the United States will be only of the highest value: our family and friends.

So now we’re living with my dear, generous parents. We’ve expunged approximately 90% of our belongings and I’m anxious to get rid of the remaining bits over the next eight months. It feels WONDERFUL!!!! It’s insane how much one small family accumulates in a short period of time. It’s insane how difficult it feels to let go of items once they are in your household. We are vowing to be more deliberate about possessions. It is so easy to accept and purchase more goods because they are useful, because they are beautiful, because they were gifts. But these things weigh us down, use up our precious moments of life, and eat up resources from the earth that can never be replaced. I’m nearly disgusted by our thoughtless accumulation of goods over the years … and ecstatic that our consumer trend line is plummeting in exchange for a freer, lighter existence.

For now, I will sign off because we are off to celebrate that we’ve cleaned a rental unit (fingers crossed) for the last time!!!!

 

You just never know

“I’ve been thinking; selling the rental properties and not having those responsibilities to deal with while we travel would feel really, really good,” Rodney says to me a few days ago. I sit up a little taller and try not to shriek with joy.

“You are absolutely right,” I say in a voice so calm it surprises me. “We would never have to deal with emergency maintenance bills, nightmare tenants, the inevitably disappointing management help … selling would remove all that potential stress.”

I’ve wanted to sell the properties before we take off, but Rod has been hesitant. Whereas I’ve never much enjoyed being a landlord, Rodney grew up helping out with his parent’s property business and was pretty much raised on construction sites. Rod literally cut his teeth on a wrench (maybe that’s why he needed so much orthodontic work later in life? Ha!). ¬†It’s kind of in his blood, and I think he almost feels like it’s just the right thing to do. We “should” own property because it worked out great for his parents. I completely understand, and do agree. I just don’t enjoy being a landlord. Anyway, regardless of our differing preferences, the little bit of real estate that we own is unquestionably a major component of our longterm investments for “retirement.” For all these reasons (and perhaps others), Rod has resisted my inclination to sell off our property and so I dropped the subject. Instead, we’ve been trying to figure out how to best manage the rentals from afar. Ugh.¬†Headache.¬†Sigh. Sigh again.

Buuuuut, low and behold (and fingers crossed), Rodney may be changing his mind?! The lure of a life without major responsibilities lurking around the corner may be drawing him in? Embrace that notion, my dear husband!!

Eeeeeeeeee!!! (that’s me, no longer containing my shriek of joy!)

We would get on the airplane with only our bodies and backpacks. No obligations or responsibilities back at home requiring our attention. Talk about absolute freedom!! We would have endless doors of opportunity in front of us, and we could walk through any one of them without us first having to consider our responsibilities as property owners. If we didn’t want to, we would never have to return to Alaska. We will definitely¬†want to return, but we would never have to.

Is this just a passing thought for Rodney? Will the property management in his blood outweigh the call of absolute freedom? Apparently not. Several days have passed and Rodney’s enthusiasm to sell has increased, not waned.

We have decided. Absolute freedom wins. We will sell our properties.