Sunday, September 29, 2013

Live Life - Inspired

Today is Sunday. The start of a fresh new week.  This week, I would like to challenge you to cultivate creativity in the mundane.  We rush around our lives, hurried. Always in a hurry.  Our inner creativity gets sucked up into the vacuum that is the every day.  As our creativity drains from our souls, we hurry more and find ourselves multi-tasking when it is often not necessary.  We do more and think less.  We feel less.  As a result we subject ourselves to living a less inspired life.  
9/27/13: Taken on the walk out to the bus stop with Maya.  A necessary function, the bus stop walk, transformed into 
a creative moment that made me thankful to be alive, and thankful I grabbed my camera on the way out the door.  


Having two small children I like to surprise them with simple things, like the “Friday Night Pancake Party” we had this weekend, or last night we had planned a “Star Gazing Hot Cocoa Party”, and when the clouds and wind rolled in, we had a Hot Cocoa Party instead.  Whether you have children or not, a Star Gazing Hot Cocoa Party can transform a quiet night at home, into something special.  A moment.  
Tea parties are my favorite. I love tea parties.  George and Maya are quite the little conversationalists and provide endless topics to discuss, and abstract things to ponder.  A tea party with them usually means costumes and assuming entirely different identities.  Sometimes we pretend to be The Incredibles at tea parties and I get to be Elastagirl.  Me, Elastagirl.  That is how cool their tea parties are.  Maya and George know how to have a good time. 
Maya is 5. George is 4. They cultivate their inner creativity on a moment to moment basis.  The result? They learn. I am not even talking about learning to be creative.   Being creative gives them an outlet, a resource, a place to exist in and make sense of the world that whizzes by at warp speed.  
By simply cultivating their inner creativity, they find ways to process life, make sense of new subjects, and apply new skills.  I would argue that conscious creativity can have the same transformative power as mindfully examining our dreams. 
George tapping into his inner Mark Spitz, wearing an assortment of my finishers medals.

Something simple. A cup of tea, can be tansformed into a memorable experience. A moment. Where you sit. And think. Or don’t.  Or write whatever comes to mind.  Or pretend to be Elastagirl.
Disney Pixar - The Incredibles 
How is it we forget to live life, inspired?  Yet, many of us live a goal-oriented, focused life.  What would happen if we were all a little more creative? What if we tried to cultivate creativity in the mundane, the boring, the essential tasks - things that must get done.  

A dish washing dance party.  

A watercolor painting session, instead of Sponge Bob Square Pants, or worse - watching the depressing news ticker, rehashing the tragedies of today.  

Simply getting dressed, what you wear - can be an exercise in creative cultivation.  It doesn’t have to be outlandish or obscene, just something that makes you smile or captures your heart.  A piece of special jewelry. Handmade felted mittens. A wild hat.  

A few random photos captured with your iPhone, something that draws in your attention, something you would normally dismiss.  

A portion of your grocery list, written in haiku.  

Bananas, eggs, bread 
Milk, cheese, butter, jam and tea 
Kale, chocolate, and wine 

Simple activities can be used to inspire your creative soul and process the noise and perpetual motion our busy lives have become. 

A recent Gallup Poll noted that 34% of Americans say math is the most important subject; while 21% say it is english; and 12% say it is the sciences. Only 2% of Americans say the most important subjects are music and art.  I am not arguing that art and music should be the most important subjects, but I am arguing that continually shoving to them to the back burner, defunding school art and music programs, and devaluing an important aspect of our culture, comes at a cost we all incur.  An un-payable debt to our creative consciousness. We lose something important when we stop creating. 
A trip to the playground, in costume, resulted in photographic magic.  I was really thankful I didn't fight it when he 
insisted on wearing his beloved bumble bee costume to the playground.  Sometimes you just have to go with it. Magic might be right around the corner.

This week I would like to challenge you to cultivate your inner creativity.  To do something every day that transforms a typical experience into something memorable, by tapping into your inner creativity. 
Last week I took a moment to sip my coffee on the futon in my office nook.  I'm getting into the habit of keeping my camera on hand at all times, so when I looked in the closet and saw the sun streaming in on my latest knitting project (felted mittens), I was able to enjoy the moment and capture it. 

Life life-- inspired. Cultivate creativity and reconnect with yourself.  Make the world a better place, and don’t forget to breathe. 
9/27/13: Bus Stop Walk: Weeds, by the roadside.  Nothing special, rare or unique.  Frost transformed, sunlight enhanced - weeds.

How are you going to cultivate creativity this week? How will you transform the mundane into something magical?  Share it with us on Facebook:  Honey Mama Runs Wild

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Honey Mama's Gluten-Free Pumpkin Carrot Cake

Pumpkin puree leftovers from my pumpkin spice coffee creamer had to be transformed into something tasty. Coming off the heels of some delicious pumpkin bread a couple weeks ago I wanted something other than a quick bread, but wanted to make something sweet.  

I went to work concocting a Pumpkin-Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.  I used my mom’s famous carrot cake as a guide, it includes both grated carrots and pureed carrots, and is the moistest cake I have ever had.  I made this cake with gluten-free flours and oats.  The finished product resulted in a moist, delicious cake.  A cake that left my husband asking “Is this really gluten-free?”.  Two enthusiastic thumbs up from all four of us. 
Honey Mama’s Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Carrot Cake
- Preheat oven to 375 F 
Combine dry ingredients in large mixing bowl:
1 1/4 C Bob’s All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend (Available at Costco now!)
1 C Bob’s Gluten-Free Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats 
2 T Powdered Milk 
2 t Cinnamon
1/2 t Nutmeg
1/2 t Ground Cloves 
1/4 t Real Salt 
1/2 t Baking Powder
1/4 t Baking Soda 
1/2 t Xanthan Gum



Combine wet ingredients in small bowl: 
1 C Pumpkin Puree
1/4 C Organic Virgin Coconut Oil 
1 ea. Egg
2 T Honey
1 T Blackstrap Molasses 
1/4 C Brown Sugar, packed
1/4 C Organic Raw Sugar
2 t Vanilla Extract 
1/8 C Water 

Combine additional ingredients in small bowl: 
1 C Grated Organic Carrots
1/2 C Organic Raisins 
1/2 C Baker’s Shredded Sweetened Coconut 
Optional: 
1/2 C Chopped Walnuts 
Frosting:
6 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1 T Butter, softened
1 1/4 C Powdered Sugar 
2 t Vanilla Extract 
1 t Half and Half 
  1. Prepare springform pan: cut 1 round piece of parchment paper, line the bottom of the pan.  Use cooking spray or coconut oil around the sides of the pan. If you do not have a spring form pan, a standard cake pan will do.  The springform pan makes it easier to handle the cake and ensures it sticks together nicely when you remove it from the pan.
  2. Combine all dry ingredients, mix until blended.  
  3. Combine all wet ingredients, mix until blended.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.  Using hand mixer on medium setting, blend well.  
  5. Add additional ingredients to the batter, mix on low, until combined. Be careful not to over mix. 
  6. Pour cake batter into prepared spring form pan. Spread evenly.
  7. Place pan on cookie sheet and place in oven.
  8. While cake is baking: combine frosting ingredients in a bowl, begin mixing on low and increase mixer speed until it reaches high.  Continue mixing until frosting is light and airy.  Cover and refrigerate until cake is cool.
  9. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.  Do the toothpick test before removing from the oven.  
  10. Pop cake out of spring form pan and place on a rack to cool, leaving the bottom portion of the pan in tact. 
  11. Once cake is cool, frost evenly.  Enjoy! 



Friday, September 27, 2013

Wild Dreams: Once in a Lifetime

On May 27, 2013, I returned home from a weekend spent at The Shack.  Feeling reflective I sat down and scrawled out a few notes, a message to my future-self.  
My present self.  A message for today.

This morning I came across the notes by accident, looking for something else, and sat down to write about the the past and the present.  The here and now.  

This amalgamation of thought and feeling was born out of questions and wondering.  Thinking.  I wrote these initial questions exactly twelve days before we found ourselves in the driveway of The Moose Lodge, for the very first time.  

June 8, 2013 

A few mindful questions, reflection and wondering led us home.


Success is something that is largely based on interpretation.  


Is success the ability to purchase the perfect place to call home? The dream kitchen.  


We kept going back to the start. Our dream. The plan. Our goals. Our roots.  

You only get one lifetime.  One go round on this merry go round, sometimes we get so busy doing, we forget to enjoy - everything.  Every moment is a reason to celebrate.  
You're alive.  Breathing.  Here. Right now.  


Being an endurance athlete, I generally subscribe to the idea that "your body is a temple", but I recently came across this quote from culinary cowboy, Anthony Bourdain "Your body is not a temple, it is an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.".  Enjoy the ride, my friends.  


Live life on your own terms.  Have fun. Be happy. Be a good person.  Do good things. Be thankful.  Be kinder than is necessary.  Be patient with others, especially yourself.  Breathe.

Get out in nature. It grounds you. It centers you.  It makes you realize who you are.  

Being outside, a feeling comes over you....you start to feel small, and insignificant.  In every day life, if you go around feeling small and insignificant, you can start to 
feel kind of crappy.  

When you are outside with the bees and trees, feeling small  and 
insignificant is the first step to deep appreciation and respect 
for the world that surrounds us.   


We are but specks in this grand place. 

Looking up at the sky, feeling small - it doesn't take much to be awestruck, filled with the wonderment that is nature.    

Our experiences - the first breath, life, and death, and all the moments that rest in between are so small, fleeting - like sand squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand.  The tighter you hold on, the faster it runs between your fingers.  The trick is to let go, open your hand and rest your mind, focus your heart on the here and now.  When you start to focus on the moment, every day life takes on a whole new meaning and can transform simple things into glorious unexpected experiences.  You have to be ready to receive those moments. 


Feeling small and insignificant can be the first step to being big and brave.  


On May 27, 2013 I sat in our gorgeous, oversized, posh suburban dwelling, asking myself questions I never though I would ask myself, once I arrived in this place we called 
The Labrador House.   

One gray and rain mixed with snow kind of afternoon last March, I sat at the intersection of Tudor and Minnesota, with my hair sopping wet, shivering under the blast of hot air and the dampness lingering on  my skin after an Saturday afternoon lap swim, a long slow steady swim, I swam well over a (swimmers mile).  I sat at the light waiting in the turn lane to get on to Minnesota this song came on and it summed up my life and I thought to myself:  


"You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house? 

The Labrador House.

You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to? 



North, to The Moose Lodge. 

You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong? 

Is it crazy that I don't see myself in my life, living in cul-de-sac-ville, mini-mcmansions on perfectly manicured postage stamp lots with a strange quiet silence lingering in the air, with the soundtrack of cargo jets taking off and landing at all hours of the day and, particularly the night.  One after the next. 

Laying awake in bed at night asking ourselves: 

(You may say to yourself,) my god, what have I done? 

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground.


Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was, 
same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was, 
same as it ever was, same as it ever was…"

 - Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime 

How did we go this astray from our dream? Our path?  Where did we go wrong?


It wasn't until I decided to stop chasing the ever-illusive American Dream,
 that I reclaimed my own wild dreams.  


There are no answers. No real ones anyway. And success is fleeting.  Live for the moments, the little ones - your coffee in the morning....


 and sunsets in the evening....



And toasted marshmallows over a campfire...


and running through the forest - wild and free, or 
kicking your feet up and enjoying the moment.  

This moment. The here. The now. 


Life is too short to go around feeling like a part of yourself is missing. 
Disconnected.  Displaced.  Lost.  


You have to chart your own course.  

Point yourself in the direction of your dreams and run....wild.  

Friday, August 16, 2013 - Maya at a roadside pull-out on the drive home.  Our first drive home.  The day we moved to The Moose Lodge.

You never know what might be waiting for you on the other side of fear and doubt.  


Wild dreams do come true.  


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wild Nature Survival Girl Reporting for Duty

September 6, 2013

Last night after the kids were in bed I went for a walk alone in the woods. I was sitting there on the edge of a steep drop, perched on a stump. I call it my "sitting place", reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh, a place where I can "think, think" and just be.  Much like Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory "This is my spot", I may go so far as to pee on it, to mark it as mine, because it feels like exactly where I belong. In the wilds of nature.
I was watching the sunset as The Mentastas came alive in hot pink and deep blue, and squirrels quarreling with a grey jay in a spruce tree. I was getting acquainted with the trees, three of them to be exact, young spruce I am calling The Three Sisters. I want to knit a shawl out of some natural fiber and stick things in it, sticks and bones, and then photograph them and watch them grow into strong and healthy women. I can't help it, I really am a tree hugger. I was taking photos, lots and lots of photos. And dreaming of staging the woods along the trail with secret surprises. Gnomes. Moose skeletons, beaver jaw bones, caribou antlers. Fairies. The three sisters enrobed in a natural fiber shawl peppered with unexpected trinkets. Benches and other places for sitting and thinking.  Existing.

From my sitting spot I can observe nature. Scenes like this capture my attention (not an easy thing to do) and give me a reason to pause. Permission to be.
The short sections of trail I have thus far managed to resurrect have left me with a light joyful feeling in my heart. Being out here on the homestead feels like we are some place remote and truly wild. Then I am reminded of the high speed internet, electricity, interior plumbing and hot water, the telephone. Then I start to feel a bit like Jimmy Fallon as "Wild Nature Survivor Guy" on Sesame Street. "Relying on my instincts, I’ll see if I can survive out here in the middle of nature -- completely alone." (Wild Nature Survivor Guy).  

"I know nature when I see it, after all I’m wild nature" survivor girl. 
On that trail, I just feel "WILD", then I go back "inside" to electricity, running water - hot showers and clean dishes, telephone, and high speed internet - which happens to have better connectivity and reliable speed than we ever had "In Town". Then I feel like I am living a not-so-wild life, because we have all the comforts of "The City".  

The pull of an authentic experience with nature still tugs at my heart strings and I find it tempting not to move forty miles into the wilderness to live in a trappers cabin and really experience The Wild Life. Someday. Fully aware I am shelving that dream for the time being, I keep singing Ants Marching by Dave Matthews Band to myself, reminding me that the lights go down and you up and die. Nothing is permanent. Nothing guaranteed. Every moment a divine gift. Something to savor. To cherish.

Out in nature you can explore and discover things about the world, about yourself that might not be possible to examine with the backdrop of noise and daily life drowning out the call of the wild.  

Scenes like this one: quaking aspen trees perched along a steep hillside, rattling and shaking in the icy fall winds. Simple. Beautiful. Impossible to truly capture. A life lesson that has been heavily reinforced since moving out into "Nature", is no matter how good you are at writing and photographing, there is no substitute for getting out there yourself, rolling up your sleeves, digging deep in the cool earth, splashing through a puddle, and feeling the icy wind numb your cheeks. One cannot possibly sum up that experience in words and pictures because it is a feeling. The sensation. The smell. The energy of a place.
- Wild Nature Survivor Girl signing off to go on more epic journeys in "Nature".

Homesteading 101 - Substitutions and Solutions




The last time we were at Costco I stocked up on half and half. Without half and half, I find coffee totally un-consumable.  At which point I become unbearable, being that I am not a morning person in any sense of the word.  




In an effort to be prepared we bought three half-gallon containers of half and half.  It comes ultra pasteurized so the sell by date was sometime in mid-October.  Generally, when we lived “in town” I would buy 1-2 of these containers at a time.  I have never once had a container go to the dark side, and spoil.  I packed the containers tightly in a Coleman “Max Cold” ice chest, along with some frozen vegetables and headed for the homestead.  About 5 days later the cream began to spoil.  I dumped it, in disbelief at my misfortune and cracked open the next container. Confirmed the refrigerator is in fact as cold as it needs to be and chalked it up to a rare event and gave thanks for having a back-up supply. Two days later that was spoiled.  The third, opened, and it was already gone.  Disaster.  

I came out here prepared though, I bought a case of shelf-stable creamers at Costco as well “Mini-Moo’s”, which I knew would take about a dozen for a single cup of coffee, but knowing my attachment to half and half, a dozen small creamer containers in the trash would be worth it, because again without coffee I just might give up on everything.  

Somewhere in the manufacturing or shipping process a Moo must have burst and dripped cream all over the place. The result is a box full of Moo’s that have a distinct spoiled half and half aroma, which conjures up feelings of chunky cream and the failed trio of half-gallon goodness that fed the compost pile.  Sadness.  




This launched my desperate attempt for a good coffee creamer out here on the edge of nowhere.  I’m not one of those people that can happily get by on 2% milk in place of half and half.  I soon realized I had my work cut out for me.  The first “recipe” said to mix half and half from pantry ingredients by using a combination of milk and butter.  Excited and hopeful, I attempted it, and it failed....miserably.  It was the sorriest excuse for half and half I could have concocted.  

Back to Google.  “homesteading substitutions + half and half” resulted in a common theme: sweetened condensed milk and half and half.  To which I say “If I had half and half, I wouldn’t be here looking for substitutions”.  Then I did what I should have done in the first place -- call my Mom.  I told her about what I had tried then about the sweetened condensed milk, she interjected “All the old girls used evaporated milk -- that’s what Grandma used to use.  Do you have any?”.  Why yes, I just happen to have a can. No really.  In a desperate attempt to create the most well-stocked pantry known to man, I made it a point to pick up at least two of everything, a food-inspired version of Noah’s Ark, if you will.  Next, I did more research.  

I had seen “Allergy Free Alaska’s” post last week, basically it was her take on a sugar-free, vegan, and dairy-free pumpkin spice coffee creamer (link: http://www.allergyfreealaska.com/2013/09/20/dairy-free-pumpkin-spice-coffee-creamer-veganno-sugar-added/).  I really enjoy reading her posts and we seem to share the same passion for creating a recipe that has dietary restrictions and has some sort of food allergy and sensitivity component, with bonus points for transforming the recipe into a vegan one.  I consider it a culinary challenge of the highest order.  If you are able to work with multiple dietary restrictions and personal food choices, and create a culinary masterpiece - it’s like winning the gold medal in the Cooking Olympics.  So I took the framework that Allergy Free Alaska had set up in her Pumpkin Pie Spice Coffee Creamer, and ran with it.  Basically I added back in all the things she had aimed to take out, while admiring the craft she put into creating the vegan, dairy-free and sugar-free recipe.  

As I began mixing the ingredients together as sort of magic was in the air.  The color shifted with the addition of each ingredient, looking more appetizing as I went on adding things here and there - smells of fall baking filled the air.  Hopeful.  Excited. Could it be I was about to create culinary magic and whip up something better than I could ever find “in town”?  
Perhaps if you are a normal coffee drinker and follow the directions and suggested ratios per your coffee pot, you may be on to something without the addition of dairy products to the original Pumpkin Pie Spice Latte recipe.  However, I have never been on to read the directions, let alone follow them, and so the creamer failed.  Sadness.  

                                         

I heard my Mom’s voice whispering in my ear, it was saying “Evaporated milk......evaporated milk....” and something about “Do what your Mother told you to do the first time...”, and I began debating the merits of adding another ingredient to my failed concoction, potentially wrecking the whole works and having a failed recipe that would need to be somehow transformed into culinary magic in another incarnation.  I grabbed the can opener, said a silent prayer and went for it.  The addition of the evaporated milk created the rich, deep creamy color and offset the pumpkin orange tones, lightening things up a bit and looking a lot like a thin pumpkin pie filling.  I added this creamer to some coffee, stirred well, took a deep breath and a long lingering sip.  I am pretty sure angels started to sing the moment the pumpkin deliciousness hit my tongue.  Success. Culinary magic.  Bliss.  




Now I am feeling hopeful that I might actually manage out here - without half and half, but instead with willpower, determination and a little magic.  Looking out the window, watching the river run and the snow capped peaks tower high on the horizon, I feel like I have landed at the best coffee shop anywhere.  Savoring the moments.  

Cheers and Happy Fall to You All!   -Honey Mama 


Pumpkin Pie Spice Latte 

1 C Vanilla Almond Milk
14 oz Coconut Milk 
10 oz Evaporated Milk
1/2 C Regular Milk or Dry/Reconstituted 
1/3 C Brown Sugar 
1 t Vanilla Extract
1/2 C Pure Pumpkin (Canned)
1 t Cinnamon
1/2 t Nutmeg
1/2 t Cloves
1 T Butter 

Rocket Fuel Grade Coffee


Combine all ingredients (except coffee) in a sauce pan until it reaches a low simmer, stirring constantly.  Pour into a glass or stainless steel container with lid.  Enjoy. Refrigerate. shut off the burner, stir well. I ended up adding in the remaining failed half and half mix of butter and milk, because I thought it wouldn’t hurt.  I don’t know that I would do that again, but it seemed to work well on this go round.

For one grande sized latte:

12 oz  Rocket Fuel Grade Coffee 
4 oz Pumpkin Pie Spice Cream
For best results:

Heat creamer up on the stove in a small saucepan, until it reaches a low simmer.  Add the coffee in, stir well. Pour into mug. Enjoy. Cheers!

From:  http://www.etsy.com/listing/109659769/good-morning-pumpkin-coffee-mug


Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan until it reaches a low simmer, stirring constantly.  Pour into a glass or stainless steel container with lid.  Enjoy. Refrigerate. shut off the burner, stir well.

It could be “The Lodge Effect” at work here, but I am pretty sure this latte is far better than Starbucks ever put out in their fall feature drink line.   

Suggestions for alterations: replace the brown sugar with maple syrup, add in more vanilla, add in more pure pumpkin puree in the mix.  Or just leave it the way it is, because you can’t really top perfection.  



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Alaska Factor


The dogs have been anxious and pacing all morning, eager and restless to get their run on.  The day wears on, house projects take the front burner and dogs and running are shelved for the time being.  The dogs finally settled down accepting we were not ready to comply with their insistent demands for a run.  Around that time I started to feel edgy and cranky, when Parke stepped into the room and gently asked "Would you like to go for a run?" to which I replied rather stupidly (and crankily) "Outside?".  Yes, outside.  The stout fall wind shaking the hell out of the remaining stubborn leaves, and (stubborn) me - outside running.  Sure, why not.  I went straight to work locating the appropriate gear.  As I was doing that it occurred to me what Parke had done, and it was no different than what we do with the dogs.  Observe their behaviors, determine when they absolutely must go for a run, or they will start to grate each others nerves, snap, snarl, and eventually retreat into their kennels.  Well played, Sparky, well played. It was clear I was in need of a run.  As soon as the dogs heard my Garmin power up, they were jacked to the ceiling and raring to go.  I had to dig a little deeper to conjure up those kinds of feelings, just hearing the Garmin turn on, doesn't quite turn me on.  

Dressed in a multitude of layers, everything from my Patagonia silkweight capilene long underwear which are 11 years old and still going strong, brushed fleece tights, Mountain Hardwear fleece pants, SmartWool socks, Run Exceed team shirt, and my Marmot windbreaker, ready to take on the trail.  It’s 37.4 outside, warm-enough for this time of year, yet the winds are howling, as if they are straight out of January, foreshadowing our near-future, sending a clear and direct message: you have moved to a harsh climate.  I step outside on the porch to test my outfit.  Fail.  

Back inside another layer is added, my favorite sporty spandex hat made right here in AK by another APU’er Erika Klarr:  E’Klarr Alaska out of Homer.  Then I reapply my fleece headband.  Pick up my custom designed fingerless wool arm warmers which I am calling a "Honey Mama Original".  Sized specifically to fit over my favorite lightweight running gloves, with arm warmers long enough to be used as fold-over mittens, should the cold really hit hard.  I step back outside.  Test two.  Pass.  

I head out the door, hop down the hill channeling my inner mountain goat and testing the merits of my new trail shoes (Mizuno Wave Ascend 8), which I like, but am not entirely sold on just yet.  Parke fires up the Honda ATV, loads George up in his helmeted scarfed tightly bundled get-up and takes off, while me and the dogs follow. Per my Garmin, some 291 feet later we are stopped in our tracks.  Propane delivery!  Rejoice.  


Typically I would be miffed if something came between me and getting my run on, today I was thankful. Thankful because our tank gauge indicated we were in “the red”. Thankful because my list of “must haves” included hot running water.  

I decided to shuffle out to the mail box, because today is Monday.  Which means it is one of the three days per week that we receive mail.  Thumbing through the mail I find the October issue of Running Times (Yay!) and something from our former mortgage company. Meanwhile the propane tank is filled and Parke makes a comment about the cost of propane, and our usage estimate for the past 4.5 weeks.  I go back in the house and step out of the icy wind and take a break to read the mail.  I open up the mortgage envelope and it is an unexpected (or otherwise forgotten) check - the sum of the check and the cost of the propane come out just about even, and by yet another miracle our first propane fill will cost us $4.92.  Step by step we are being eased in to rural life, as gently as possible, guided by faith and fueled by persistence.  Thankful.

The other gift from The Universe that was delivered in the mail was the issue of Running Times.  I sat down, sipped my now cold morning coffee and read the editors letter which highlights this issues features and generally sends some encouraging running related message.  The Editor-in-Chief, Jonathan Beverly has an easy kind of writing style that speaks to me and I happen to think he is kind of dreamy.  What can I say, I happen to be a sucker for greying hair and steely blue eyes. My dreamy husband serves as a testament to that weakness.  In the intro Beverly mentions "The Alaska Factor", instantly I am intrigued.  He starts by saying "Runners from rich, comfortable countries seek out hardships to gain strength; imposing strict training regimens, living in camps, traveling to altitude....the tougher and less pleasant the place and lifestyle, the better for training in the rigors of distance running.  This reality stands conventional wisdom on its head".  And of course that speaks to me, because there is nothing I like more than standing conventional wisdom on its head, thank you, Jonathan Beverly. In a few sentences he basically summed up why we are here.  Life out here is tough and less pleasant.  Back in the city, gainfully employed and living in the lap of luxury at The Labrador House - life was easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  Out here we have voluntarily chosen to "seek out hardships to gain strength".  

The Alaska Factor article was written by Matt McCue and poses reflective questions such as: “Is their environment a horrible place to run, or is it ideal?” and “If success in cross country is determined by toughness, could this grueling place be perfect?” and my favorite “Hills are never a workout focus because Alaska’s rolling landscape provides that stimulus on practically every run.”.  Prior to moving to The Moose Lodge I found I could avoid major hills if I chose to, but since moving here my times have slowed considerably and I’ve been left sucking wind more than I care to admit.    The hills are no longer something I can sidestep, in favor of an easier path.  I’m either charging up hill, or floating down hill (or falling flat on my face to take a dirt nap).  There is no avoidance of the hard, the cold, the hill.  Running at The Moose Lodge is The Alaska Factor at work.  

Joe Friel, renowned triathlon coach wrote a helpful blog post on Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and the impact of altitude on athletic performance.  Down in the Anchorage Bowl you are basically at sea level.  Here at The Moose Lodge, we are sitting about 2300 feet, which I didn’t think would be noticeable in terms of athletic performance.  Reading through the article there is a handy chart:



By my calculations I am should expect to experience roughly a 2.5% decrease in performance.  That seems to be a highly accurate figure.  Last week we made a weekend trip into Los Anchorage and I was able to fit in a 6.55 mile run with Petzl, our faithful Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Heeler.  I haven’t been running as much or nearly that far over the past two months, and I expected the run to feel awful.  Instead I could feel tiny invisible wings on my feet, I charged up a .65 mile hill like it was nothing, I fartleked my way all the way back home.  The air was crisp and refreshing, the sky a deep September blue.  By the time I skipped to the front door I was a better human being.  

Preparing to head out my trail run:
Channeling my inner Chevy Chase circa 1989, Christmas Vacation “Later dudes!”

After the propane guy left and Maya was dropped off by the school bus at the end of our driveway we bundled up (again) and headed out on an ATV ride for Parke and the kids and a run for me and the dogs.  Happily trekking along, taking in the sights, focusing on the trail littered with rocks, roots, and leaves obscuring the former - just happy to be. Happy to exist.  

The view opened up and we spotted two adult trumpeter swans and five young swans, enjoying an afternoon swim.  

Earlier today a dear friend who is in graduate school for nursing called and I was telling her: “I just walk around feeling blissed out all the time!” to which she said “That’s great, but you probably shouldn’t drive for a while.”.  Based on her own personal experience living in an ashram where she surrounded herself in quiet meditation, prayer, yoga and deep thinking, she eventually reached the “blissed out” phase and found she was no longer able to drive into “The City”.  In her case “The City” was quite literally The City, as in New York City.  In any case, her advice was solid, though I wish she would have given a warning out for trail running.  Apparently that should be approached with caution  as well.   

Trekking along behind the ATV, just 12 seconds shy of my magic 18 min. And 30 sec. window, that reliably opens up once I’ve been running that long - that blissed out feeling was jerked out from beneath me, like a rug.  At 18:18, 1.67 miles into the run I saw something rustling in the corner of my right eye, we were at a point where the trail had smoothed out to a fine hard packed gravel and I was feeling....confident  careless.  I looked up to make sure a (wild) animal wasn’t stalking me like prey, at which point a lone rock cropped up right underneath my foot. I was seeing the world from a completely horizontal point of view before the pain hit all I could figure was I was just magically flattened.  I was laid out in the dirt for what felt like a few minutes, but in fact only few seconds had elapsed.  Driven by instinct, I rolled to my left side as I came crashing down and in the process I whacked my left knee, and was covered in a fine dust from head to toe.  I sprang up like I was on fire at which point the kids started hollering “MAMA, ARE YOU OKAY?!?!?!” which got Parke’s attention.  He turned around and I am just standing there and he’s giving me a confused look.  Then the sag wagon backed up and I picked up my ego and slung it on the back of the four-wheeler, and took a moment to be thankful the sag wagon was there.  I wrapped my arms around Parke and we headed down the trail to the creek for a moment of quiet contemplation and creekside thanksgiving.



At the close of the Editor's Note in the October/November 2013 Running Times issue Jonathan Beverly leaves the reader with this sentiment: "As we head into winter, I would normally wish you mild weather and smooth runs, but instead I'll hope for just the right adversity -- be that Alaskan-esque blizzards or body-altering training sessions - to make you stronger, tougher, and a better runner." 

Mild ankle sprain and all The Alaska Factor had its way with me today.  Alaska: 1; Honey Mama: 0.  I returned home stronger, tougher and a better runner - because the Alaskan rug was pulled out from beneath my feet in a moment of carelessness and taught me how to be a better runner in the process.  As I was splayed out in the dirt viewing the world from a horizontal point of view, feeling the sand and rocks brush my face, I felt a sense of peace and thanks for being out on the trail, despite the pain radiating in my ankle.  I learned an important lesson today and luckily the sag wagon was in tow to bail me out this time.  Next time, I may not be so lucky.  


Check out E’Klarr Alaska at:  http://www.eklaar.com

The headband I am wearing in the first photo and hat I am wearing in the fifth photo are E'Klarr products and they're the best thing I have found so far for running and cross-country skiing for their lightweight, sweat wicking, wind protecting properties.  And they come in some pretty rad patterns. Cute matters, even at The Moose Lodge.